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Vigils (Review)

Know Theatre offers poignant, funny memory play about death

By Rick Pender · April 15th, 2009 · Onstage

Critic's Pick

Is Know Theatre obsessed with death? Following a production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, about a songwriter who tries to retrieve his beloved bride from the Underworld, the Over-the-Rhine theater is now presenting Noah Haidle’s Vigils, about a widow who keeps the soul of her dead husband, a firefighter, imprisoned in a trunk.

Haidle’s script is a fragmented memory play. Widow (Jenny Guy; the characters are named generically) can’t shed her grief free two years after her husband died in a burning house. She has captured Soul (Fang Du), who is immersed in random, repetitive memories of Body (Chris Wesselman).

His fiery death is revisited numerous times, using simple but effective special effects.

Body and Soul yearn to be put to rest, but Widow is stuck, despite a persistent Wooer (Daniel S. Hines). He has his own issues, courting a woman with a Soul trapped in her apartment, a needy whiner when he’s not a hip storyteller.

Haidle’s script is very self-aware. Near the end of the 100-minute play, the characters complain that they're weary of their repeated explorations of the same events and emotions. Audiences likely feel the same way, but there's a rationale for Haidle’s metaphor. When the characters break free of their emotional sinkholes, the result is powerful.

Guy gives Widow an every-girl air that makes her plight both familiar and poignant. Du’s over-the-top characterization of Soul is played more for humor than to reflect Wesselman’s Body, a likeable schlub of an average guy, a tonedeaf singer (“Killing Me Softly” is his mantra) and a clueless, regretful husband. Hines’ earnest Suitor has several amusing moments, especially an impromptu opera aria that evokes applause.

Vigils is an unusual play from a promising writer. The resolution is a bit blurred, but by the end you’ll recognize that each character sees his or her future — even if it’s eternal rest.

VIGILS, presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati, continues through April 25.



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