Based on the title alone, you’d think that Vigil is a tear-jerking drama about camping out next to a dying soul. But get ready to laugh: Morris Panych’s Vigil, playing at L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum through Dec. 18, is a comedy — at least in flashes.
The show centers on the grouchy Kemp (a chatty Marco Barricelli) as he arrives at the bedside of a woman whom he assumes to be his dying aunt Grace (Olympia Dukakis). Kemp clearly doesn’t want to be there and throws barbs at the woman as he walks through the door. One of the first: ”We should discuss your organs.” And one of the funniest — judging by crowd reaction — comes as he’s serving her dinner one evening: ”I think you’ve eaten enough. You’ll never fit in the box.” Grace, for her part, rarely speaks a word — in fact, she doesn’t utter a line until just before the intermission, when she wishes Kemp a Merry Christmas. By this point, Kemp has been waiting for her to die for the better part of a year.
For the bulk of Vigil, Kemp just keeps talking at Grace, lamenting his station in life and how her continued breathing is ruining his life further. And that’s the show’s over-arching problem. The jokes get stale after nearly two hours. We get it: He wants her to die and relishes saying really nasty things to her. The second act is similar to the first, but with a twist near the end that belatedly livens up things a bit. But by that point, it’s almost too late. The only thing making this Vigil bearable is the cast. C+
(Tickets: centertheatregroup.org or 213-628-2772)