Vigils, A CurtainUp DC review, CurtainUp

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Shh...the soul is sleeping. We have to be quiet.— Widow
A quirky little play about the emotional act of letting go -- of fears, griefs, hopes, pasts, and emotional connections -- Noah Haidle's script is a funny flight of fantasy that speeds to its affirming conclusion very nicely and leaves you with a contented smile.

The story centers on a woman who has been widowed for the past two years. Married right out of high school because she was expecting a child, she and her husband stayed married after she miscarried the baby. And while their life had its ups and downs with the usual problems that develop in a relationship, they were ultimately a happy couple.

Filled with grief when her husband, a firefighter, dies while trying to rescue a baby from a burning home, she runs to the scene of the accident and discovers his soul trying to make its accent to heaven. Unable to cope with her loss, she grabs the soul, takes it home and holds it hostage -- locking it in a box when she leaves the house or goes to bed at night.

We come into the story on the eve of her first date, which is something the Soul is encouraging her to take in order to move on and let finally allow it to go to its final judgement. . Haidle sets his story in a zany small, Mayberry-esque town where everyone knows each other and the wife's Wooer -- as well as the police captain and the fire and rescue quad -- can see the Soul just as well as the Widow.

As his story progresses, Haidle attempts to show us how letting go is a cycle of life, not confined to the grief of a loved one who has passed away, but to ill-fated love affairs, places we live and to ruts we find ourselves enmeshed. His writing style is fresh, witty and smart, while his matter-of-fact way of handling things is quite enjoyable.

Featuring wonderful performances by Naomi Jacobson (Widow), Michael Russotto (Soul), Matthew Montelongo (Body) and J. Fred Shiffman (Wooer); Vigils fits right into Woolly Mammoth's niche of off-kilter comedies that involve odd plot devices, physical humor and a fixation on death. Directed by Colette Searls, the show is quick paced, well-timed and full of energy.

Daniel Ettinger's set is a grey and white affair that comes magically to full-color life by the end of the play, reminiscent of the film The Wizard of Oz. The monochromatic staging works well with Colin K. Bills' lighting design, which features clouds scenes and nice highlights of onstage antics. When the set is awash in color, it's actually quite beautiful.

Ryan Rumery's sound design and original music filled with the sounds of fires and crying babies creates the necessary aural landscape. Kate Turner-Walker's costumes are a mix of uniforms, clashing patterns and everyday wear. While the use of a black T-Shirt to distinguish the Soul and a white T-shirt to distinguish the Body is a great idea; the purple dress used at the beginning of the play just doesn't work for Ms. Jacobson.

Adding to the comedy are the humorous fight scenes between Naomi Jacobson and Michael Russotto. Choreographed by John Gurski the actors seem to be having a great deal of fun as they hit each other with pillows, grapple on the bed and wrestle in their attempts to gain the upper hand in a case of soul hostage taking.

Choreographer Michael J. Bobbit's line dance sequence features a Britney Spears send-up that makes for one of the play's most comedic moments (there are many) and gets a round of applause and laughs from the audience. The use of flight within Vigils is aksi handled exceptionally well. It pops up several times and the way it's incorporated into the play's action is not only non-intrusive, but seems natural in its circus-like execution.

Ms. Jacobson shines in another Woolly role as the wife who is afraid to move on when her world collapses. She is at times bitchy, funny and touching in her exploration of a woman letting go and taking the courage to step outside of her comfort zone and explore life anew.

As the Soul, Michael Russotto delivers a touching portrayal of an entity (without eyes), which is determined to continue its natural journey and meet its maker. This Soul is a confidant and advisor to each of the other characters, even as it is constantly hampered by recurring memories of its recent lifetime -- many it would rather not relive.

As the husband's Body, Matthew Montelongo (who is surprisingly a twin reflection of Michael Russotto) is a fun mix of male bravado and ego. He's at once sarcastic, yet knows he may not be the brightest bulb in the pack, and delivers his lines in a everyday blue-collar man kind of way that is endearing. When he announces "I am going to dispose of the body of my imaginary child. I will return in a minute." it's with such a deadpan expression that it nicely twists the emotional moment on a startling scene and gets the play back to its lighter tones.

Finally there's J. Fred Shiffman's nerdy Wooer -- who has an endless supply of advice giving cousins -- is at once likeable and slightly pathetic. Mr. Shiffman's hesitant, yet sincere, delivery pattern, makes you immediately want him to win. However, you also realize that he may not the right man for the Widow and that he, like she, needs to let go of some of his own emotional connections in order to move on in his life.

Vigils is a nicely balanced comedy that wraps up tightly, melding all the various components of its fantasy storyline together. Woolly has extended the run until March 4th, so get your tickets while you can and enjoy this work by an up-and-coming young playwright. Your mood will take flight and your spirit will soar.

by Noah Haidle
Directed by Colette Searls
with Naomi Jacobson, Michael Russotto, J. Fred Shiffman, Matthew Montelongo, Connor Aikin
Set Design: Daniel Ettinger
Lighting Design: Colin K. Bills
Sound Design & Original Music: Ryan Rumery
Costume Design: Kate Turner-Walker
Properties Master: Jennifer Sheetz
Fight Choreographer: John Gurski
Choreographer: Michael J. Bobbit
Running Time: 1 hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission
A production of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D Street NW, Washington DC
Telephone: 202-393-3939
WED - SAT @8, SUN @2 & 7; $32-$52
Opening 01/29/07, closing 03/04/07
Reviewed by Rich See based on 02/09/07 performance
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