By Mabell, Dave on November 14, 2017.
For most of us, death is no laughing matter. But a Canadian playwright fused wisdom, irony and humour into a deathbed comedy that’s been applauded around the world.
Calgary-born Morris Panych wrote “Vigil” in 1995, with its premiere performance in Victoria. It’s since been produced in Calgary, across Canada and the U.S., as well as in Edinburgh and London’s West End. It’s also been produced in French.
Now “Vigil” is being presented in Lethbridge, opening Wednesday as a co-production by New West Theatre and Theatre Outre. It’s slated for 11 performances in the historic Trianon Ballroom – now an art gallery.
“It’s a very timeless story,” says director Kathy Zaborsky, a longtime New West vocalist. Active in theatre groups in Calgary and Canmore as well as Lethbridge, she recalls reading the script shortly after it was published.
“I thought it was a great script – it should work with New West,” she realized then.
For Outre artistic director Jay Whitehead, she adds, it’s been on his “bucket list” for years.
Now he and New West veteran Erica Hunt get to present the acclaimed Canadian work – one of dozens of Panych plays (including “Girl in the Goldfish Bowl,” “The Ends of the Earth,” “What Lies Before Us” and “The Trespassers”) which delve into the meaning of life.
The death-watch “vigil,” explains Zaborsky, lasts far longer than expected. Kent, an aloof bank employee who returns home to take care of his frail aunt, even tries to hurry the process – but fails.
Over time, however, he learns he’s not really as distanced from people around him as he thought.
“A relationship forms between them,” even though the bedridden woman remains taciturn.
Hunt doesn’t have a lot of lines to speak, the director says. “But she is a very prevalent force.”
And while the interaction between the long-estranged aunt and nephew takes place in a gloomy upstairs bedroom, Zaborsky says the mood remains upbeat.
“Jay and Erica are offering such a wonderful performance,” judging by their rehearsals.
“I can’t wait for the audience to see it, and laugh along with them.”
The show – recommended for audiences 14 and up – is the first in many years that New West is staging away from the Yates Centre, now under extensive renovation. Its artistic director, Sharon Peat, selected the spacious Trianon Gallery for this presentation, with a reminder that access is by a long staircase.
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. from Wednesday to Nov. 18 and then again from Nov. 21-25. Two Saturday matinees are also offered, both at 1 p.m.
Tickets are available by phone at 403-329-2616, online at newwesttheatre.com/tickets or in person at the reception desk in the Penny Building, 324 5 St. S.
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