I was heartbroken when Marco Barricelli decided to leave the core theater company at American Conservatory Theater and move to New York. His flamboyance, his sheer size, and that deep voice had created many a wonderful character in ACT productions, the most memorable being that of Tony Roma in GlenGarry Glen Ross. So it was time to cheer when ACT announced that Marco would be back, in the Morris Panych written and directed VIGIL. That he would be joined by Olympia Dukakis, was the icing on the cake!
As always seen in ACT productions, the VIGIL set was breathtaking, a cluttered room dominated by a large bed, and a wall of windows that “looked” onto a neighborhood full of houses. When the lights dimmed and then came on again, we saw an aged woman (Dukakis) on the bed, and in walked a man (Barricelli) with a suitcase. We were swiftly told, with pithy dialog from Kemp (Barricelli) greeted with a raised eyebrow or silence from Dukakis, that he has learnt of his aunt Grace being on her deathbed and has come to visit. The humor was macabre, often of the deadly kind, where Grace slowly kept getting better and better as Kemp planned first her funeral, then wrote the obituary, and thought of gravestones, or a cremation with flowers planted on the ashes – all in consultation with Grace!
When bored Kemp mostly looked out of the window, and talked to Grace about how tortured his childhood was, what her visits meant to him, the photos he sent to her, including the one of him with the mumps! The old woman merely nodded, or raised an eyebrow, and ate the pudding he cooked for her daily. A sore point for Kemp was the lady neighbor who sat at her window and simply stared at him. As Grace began to improve more and more, Kemp started to devise ways to end her life – with her full consent of course! The story took an abruptly macabre turn as the police arrived to ask about the dead neighbor, apparently dead for weeks with no one the wiser, and the photograph she was clutching in her hands.
The tale was by turns a take on the loneliness of old age, the sad plight of children brought up by inept or disturbed parents, and the dark humor that still permeates life and death. Dukakis stole the show with her phenomenal stage presence, and what she was able to convey simply by a twitch of a shoulder or a raised eyebrow! She barely spoke (maybe 3 sentences) and you would not even notice it. Barricelli was competent as usual as the misfit, and failure of a man. I just wish that this play, with no plot or strong story line to bind it together, was about a half hour shorter. The bits in the middle tended to drag a bit, but it was still wellworth it, just to see what Ms. Dukakis is capable of!