VIGIL worth your time

American Conservatory Theatre presents…
Starring Marco Barricelli and Olympia Dukakis

Old age is the most unexpected of all
The things that happen to a man.
Leon Trotsky

There is an island at the end of life that we all hope to reach and yet, when we arrive we discover it is a lonely, empty place. WE have survived, but no one else in our world is left to share it with us. Everyone wants to live to be one hundred years old but they always add the codicil “IF I can still be independent.”

What they forget is that independence is not enough. Man is a social animal and living in unintended solitary confinement is not a pleasure. More and more people are reaching 100 and beyond these days, well over 100,000 worldwide and when they arrive at their 10th decade, they often find that they are faced with intellectual and emotional isolation. Their friends are dead; their immediate families are deceased and their relatives have drifted away. Physical independence is more challenging. Too often financial resources have been drained by their longevity.

It is this situation that Playwright/ Director Morris Panych and his partner, Designer Ken MacDonald addressed in the ACT production of VIGIL. Panych has written over fifty plays and his hallmark is his exploration of what makes life worth living in a world increasingly defined by miscommunication, lack of shared standards and loneliness. His protagonists are often social misfits who have found bizarre solutions to the barriers they face. Marco Barricelli is that protagonist in his role as Kemp.

The play opens when he enters what he thinks is his Aunt Grace (Olympia Dukakis)’s apartment because he has received a letter from her saying” I am old and dying.”
She responds by throwing her hairbrush at him. It is obvious that he is not there to comfort her. He wants to be first in line when her estate is apportioned. He is the only living relative and she is on her way out…or so he thinks. However Grace does not die immediately. In fact, she hangs on to the thread of life for many months after Kemp’s arrival. At one point he is so exasperated he says to her “Why don’t you just die?”

When people laugh at that line, it is not because it is funny. They laugh because it is a thing they might have thought but would never dare to say. “But there ‘s kind of a delicious sharing of a true feeling, deep in your guts, that there is something very difficult about the situation,” says Panych. He continues, “We are just so selfish now. We’re so concerned about doing our own thing because we don’t live in family groups anymore. We live in weird urban groups, so family is seen as ‘a problem’. Vigil addresses that. “

Grade does not answer Kemp and as a matter of fact she said something like 14 lines in the entire play, but she is very much present and very muck a part of what we see happening on stage. “Even though VIGIL is a series of monologues, it’s very much a dialogue,” says Barricelli. “I am very dependent on Olympia.”

While he waits for Grace to expire, Kemp describes his dysfunctional childhood with an alcoholic mother and a manic-depressive father who shot himself. “Between them,” Kemp says,”They destroyed every illusion I ever had.”

Kemp lives with Grace for almost a year, even celebrating Christmas with her and the two develop a kind of love for each other that is heartwarming on every level. The acting in this play is what makes it worthwhile. The first act takes the joke of the old lady and the voracious relative ready to grab what she leaves behind and milks it to death. How many times have we seen this situation? How many times have we laughed at it because we are afraid we could actually face it ourselves? Shakespeare discussed the problem of the old and their inheritance way back in 1603 in KING LEAR. Puccini’s GIANNNI SCHICCI addressed this theme with a comedic twist in 1918. The idea of how to keep the ancient from spending all they have left on themselves and leaving nothing to their heirs is even more pertinent and more outrageous today with people living longer and accumulating more assets as they age. The difference between these classics and VIGIL is the spin Barricelli and Dukakis put on the plot. They elevate a joke told too many times, and a theme pounded flat into a love story that leaves us weeping and transformed at the end of the play. VIGIL manages to make us believe that there is something essentially good in us all and it will come out if given a chance.

“I was thinking about how important a time it is for a show like this to happen, when you are having this conversation about health care…there’re so many people out there who are so against this idea of people helping other people. It’s just shocking. So I think it’s a good time to talk about responsibility and what we owe each other and society, and I think this play does that in a kind of compassionate, funny, interesting, quirky way,” says Panych.

“For me the play is about disenfranchisement, and the tremendous longing and tremendous need being fulfilled in ways that are the least expected.” said Barricelli. “It’s about two disenfranchised lonely people finding… I want to say finding comfort in each other, but it only comes through misguided attempts and failure and… I don’t know: you’ll have to come and see for yourself and make up your own mind. “


VIGIL continues until April 18, 2010
Tuesday-Saturday @ 8 pm
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday @ 2 pm
Additional performance 4?11 @ 7 pm

Where: American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street
San Francisco , CA 94208

Tickets: $10-$82
415 749 2228