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Arts & Entertainment

'Vigils' About Love, Devotion

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 13
6/28/2013


By Ben Miles

Noah Haidle’s “Vigils” aims at being an unexpectedly amusing and passionately imaginative play about love, devotion, and the challenge of releasing the past while moving on to a future that was at once unthinkable, and is now not quite imaginable. Unfortunately, the current Long Beach Playhouse production, in the upstairs Studio Theatre, of “Vigils” – directed by Olivia Trevino – is under par in terms of pacing, dramatic catharsis and entertainment value.

Two years after her fireman husband lost his life in an apparently valiant effort to save an infant from the burning inferno engulfing what was once the baby’s home, the firefighter’s widow (played by the lovely Meghan Dillow, and referred to in the program simply as Widow) is still clutching at remnants of what once was, even if it’s only an ephemeral notion that doesn’t exactly match the actualities of the situation.

Alas, when an attractive and available man does show up in her life (the amiable Luis Castilleja portraying a character identified only as the Wooer) the Widow must choose between the familiar, comforting nostalgia of a romance that really wasn’t all her memory has cracked it up to be and a tempting but tentative future, which she can barely picture.

To complicate matters – while also befuddling his script with a metaphysical deus ex machina premise that’s been used (and overused) in cinema, literature, and theater — Haidle loads his plot with a character called the Soul (Brain Canup in an overly glib interpretation), who is the afterlife leftover of the husband that the Widow won’t release to the hereafter. Meanwhile, another personification, called the Body (Steven Meeks in a physically demanding incarnation), is the Widow’s deceased, but more corporeal, husband, who appears caught in a never-ending purgatory of reenacting the failed rescue that ended his life.

An exorcist, isn’t called for, however; instead what we get is an intermissionless eighty-five minute staging that defies science, theology, and the theatrical concept of a willing suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, the simple set design by Naomi Kasahara, an astute sound motif by Jonathan Lewis, and costuming by Donna Fritsche all add potential to a production that misfires from its start, never realizing its dramatic potential.

On a brighter note, young DJ Price does light up the stage in his Long Beach Playhouse debut as an ill-fated child. It’s a wonderful experience watching the authenticity exuded by Master Price in this heart rending portrayal.

“Vigils” continues at the Studio Theatre of the Long Beach Playhouse, through July 13. The Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim Street, Long Beach. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, call (562) 494-1014. For online ticketing and further information, visit boxoffice@lbplayhouse.org.

ben@longbeachcomber.com