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Vigil is The Play About Death You’re Going to Laugh Through

With two grandstands of seats cornering a bedroom scene, the set of Vigil is immediately unnerving. The bedroom is one of our most private spaces — you know you’re about to watch something usually kept behind closed doors.

And that’s exactly what Vigil delivers. It’s a story of a duty-bound nephew visiting his dying aunt who is not quite as close to death as the nephew wishes.

  (Photo: Dejourdans by Lifetouch)
(Photo: Dejourdans by Lifetouch)

Morris Panych’s play is being produced by Lethbridge’s New West Theatre in partnership with Theatre Outré. Kathy Zaborsky has taken on the challenge of directing for her first time, and her stage experience and sense of storytelling comes through in this dark-but-beautiful show.

Two of the city’s most talented stage performers make up the cast. Jay Whitehead fills the role of Kemp, the nephew. Eric Hunt is Grace.

I’m not sure which was more impressive: that Whitehead single-handedly carries almost all of the dialogue through the entire production, or that Hunt expresses just as much without saying a word, using expressions and movements to tell her half of the story.

The story begins with Kemp arriving to care for his aunt who he hasn’t seen in 20 years. She wrote him, her only remaining family, to inform him that she is dying. Kemp is annoyed that his life has been interrupted by this obligation, and even more so as the days drag on into weeks and then months and she still hasn’t died.

Vigil is a dark comedy. A lot of the dialogue is made up of thoughts that should never leave your head to be verbalized, especially in front of the dying. Kemp has no tact as he constantly affronts his aunt with comments like “you’ll never fit in the box” or “here, sign your will, you’re leaving everything to me” or, as she’s putting on some makeup, “what are you doing that for? Just let the mortician do it.”

 Erica Hunt as Grace  (Photo: Dejourdans by Lifetouch)
Erica Hunt as Grace (Photo: Dejourdans by Lifetouch)
 Jay Whitehead as Kemp  (Photo: Dejourdans by Lifetouch)
Jay Whitehead as Kemp (Photo: Dejourdans by Lifetouch)

While the plot is about a dying aunt, the story is really about Kemp. We learn about his difficult upbringing, the romantic impressions he had of his aunt when he met her as a boy, his friendless and sexless life, and his nihilistic personality.

You’ll laugh. A lot. And you’ll love the twist near the end. It had the audience howling.

Make sure you see this one early, because you’re going to want to see it a second time before the show closes.

Opening night was Wednesday, November 15. There will be performances every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. until November 25, as well as 1 p.m. matinees on Saturdays. With the Yates Theatre currently undergoing renovations, this production is at the Trianon Gallery at 104 5 Street South.

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