Also see Susan's review of Crave
Vigils, the current production of Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, takes its starting point from the cliché of a bereaved widow clinging to the husband she loved and lost, and extends that idea to a place that would seem ridiculous were it not for the commitment of a talented cast.
Playwright Noah Haidle, who is only 26, envisions the above scenario in terms that are not metaphoric, but rather surrealistic. Two years have passed since the character called simply Widow (Naomi Jacobson) lost her firefighter husband, but she literally won't let him go: she grabbed his soul (portrayed by Michael Russotto) as it rose out of his body, and now keeps the soul in a chest in the bedroom they shared. Making the situation even more peculiar, the soul can and does speak, and is visible to other people, and the dead man's body (Matthew Montelongo) soon appears as well to act out the Soul's narratives. (He retells the story of his death several times, just as he and the Widow re-enact important moments from their married life.)
The plot progresses in ways that one might expect, despite the unusual underpinnings. The Widow is preparing to go on her first date since her husband's death, with a fellow firefighter and friend of his (J. Fred Shiffman). As they try to navigate past the Widow's memories and find a future together, they also have to deal with the presence of the Soul and, eventually, also the Body. "This is weirding me out," the Wooer (Shiffman) says. "Can we talk about this away from your husband's soul?"
Jacobson does the best job of grounding this bizarre situation in reality: she makes her acceptance of the tangible presence of her husband's soul, and her despair when he tries to escape, utterly real and plausible. Shiffman is warmly empathetic as a sort of lost soul himself, a grown man who still lives with his mother and has never really known what he wanted out of life. Russotto has the opportunity to rhapsodize, and he makes the most of it, while Montelongo is (understandably, given the circumstances) more the strong, silent type.
Director Colette Searls does the best she can with the sometimes unwieldy script. Daniel Ettinger's scenic design adds to the sense of unreality (apparently Widow lives in a single room), aided by Colin K. Bills' mood-shifting lighting design and the character-defining costumes by Kate Turner-Walker.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company