Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Directed by Colette Searls
Reviewed by Gary McMillan
Naomi Jacobson, Michael Russotto, and J. Fred Schiffman (Photo: Stan Barouh)
Death doesn’t take a holiday, it’s grounded on standby in Woolly Mammoth’s superb production of Noah Haidle’s Vigils.
I must first note that Colin K. Bills very nearly steals the show with his extraordinary lighting design, illuminating (no pun intended) the heart of each scene in spectacular fashion. His pallet of light is a feast for the eyes and subliminally prepares the audience as the story unfolds. Take a special bow, Mr. Bills. And Daniel Ettinger’s set is a perfect canvas.
Vigils cleverly upends the formula of the dearly departed clinging to the firmament to help a bereaved loved one find closure, a new life, and a new love. Been there, done that. Here, the grieving Widow (Naomi Jacobson) hijacks her recently deceased husband from the celestial stairway, Body (Matthew Montelongo) and Soul (Michael Russotto), and demands an unknown ransom to let him/them go. Yes, two roles, one character … two’s company, three’s a couple.
The nearly departed (dearly undeparted?), a fireman killed in the line of duty, is at a loss for how to help his Widow through the sadness, the regret, and the anger. Lots and lots of anger … Did I mention lots and lots of anger? … No real spite, but lots and lots of anger … Not much of it repressed, but, fortunately, most of it hilarious.
Haidle has another wild card up his sleeve: a firefighter suitor, J. Fred Shiffman (as the Wooer), who’s as earnest and eccentric as the Widow herself and as determined to win her hand as she is to hang on to her husband’s spirit.
The Widow has to be spot on or this play might become a tiresome muddle. Fortunately, Jacobson appears to revel in the challenge: her acting effortlessly turns on a dime from riotous physical comedy to heartfelt sorrow. Montelongo, Russotto, and Shiffman are fully there with her, delivering delightfully well-rounded performances. Montelongo and Russoto keep their performances from degenerating into a World Wrestling Federation tag-team smackdown, which might be the temptation.
The nonlinear story takes place over the course of a couple of weeks, with episodes from the couple’s courtship and marriage and fragments of their posthumous relationship told in recurring flashbacks. Scenes echo, in “Groundhog Day”-like kaleidoscope manner, with each successive loop revealing another facet of the characters and their relationships. Again, the repetition might have become tiresome with a less talented cast.
Conor Aiken is too cute for words in his small role as the Child. Unfortunately, this Albee-esque plot affectation was unnecessary to the play: Noah, it doesn’t always have to be about the baby (or even the little bugger).
(Run time: approx 90 minutes) Vigils plays through March 4th at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street NW, Washington, DC. Tickets: $32 – $52. Some $10, limited availability. Call 202 393-3939 or click here