Vicki Paris Goodman
Everything about Vigils is subject to interpretation, and the Long Beach Playhouse production makes the most of the play’s many provocative themes. From Donny Jackson’s wondrous lighting on Naomi Kasahara’s vaguely stylized set to the repetitious flashbacks of significant scenes, every moment challenges the audience to think and look deep. It is one of those plays that keeps asking questions to which there are no answers.
Playwright Noah Haidle, a young man who experienced a profound personal loss, wrote Vigils as an apparent catharsis in an effort to heal his wounds. In a departure from his own painful circumstances, Haidle’s one-act play tells the story of a young widow whose husband died in a fire while trying to rescue a baby.
As Widow, Meghan Dillon struggles to resolve the conflicting goals of a woman whose primary relationship is gone in a flash. Does she hang on– for dear life!– or does she move on? And what if she desperately wants to do both?
Brian Canup plays The Soul, whom Widow keeps locked up in a casket-like upright cabinet, lest he escape to the place where souls of dead people otherwise go. She keeps him around ostensibly for company, advice and conversation. Of course, the truth is she simply can’t let go. The Soul’s presence, however, has Widow living in a static limbo, in which the searing grief she feels makes the untenable state of affairs more like a self-inflicted purgatory on Earth. What she gives up is to continue living, and what she avoids is the actual grieving that would allow her to do so.
The Soul’s easy-going nature and Canup’s down-to-earth depiction help keep the play’s mood from descending into a depressive abyss. The Widow’s attempt to date a charming and decent young man– The Wooer, played by Luis Castilleja– who truly cares for her, injects a note of hope and survivability, however tenuous it proves to be at the start. Castilleja’s Wooer is so likable that his character alone gives the audience something– someone– to care about.
Multiple repeats of the husband’s death in the burning building feature Body as played by Steven Meeks. Also repeated again and again are scenes depicting happy and troubled memories of the couple together. This sometimes frantic repetition brilliantly functions as a passable facsimile of the Widow’s relentless prison-like circular thought process. She can’t seem to find the pathway out, the veritable tangent that would break the cycle and carry her to freedom.
In a powerful and uplifting scene, young DJ Price admirably portrays the Child the couple might have had if not for a miscarriage the Widow had had long before her husband’s death.
Everything about Vigils is unsettling, but also familiar. Haidle and the excellent cast, masterfully directed by Olivia Trevino, succeed beautifully in depicting the universally dreaded and overwhelming grief engendered by the death of someone we believe we cannot live without.
Vigils continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre through July 13. General admission tickets are $24, $21 for seniors. Student tickets are $14 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014, option 1, for reservations and information. Tickets are also available at lbplayhouse.org .