Marcel Jeannin and Kim Yaroshevskaya (photo: Andrée Lanthier)
Are you dead yet?
Darkness and Lite at The Segal
by Nanette Soucy
In Morris Panych’s Vigil, at the Segal Centre, in co-production with Rideau Vert, we meet Grace, a bed-ridden, silent crone who is besought by a houseguest come to watch over her and tend to her affairs as her life draws to a close. Kempt, has dropped everything to travel a thousand miles to care for the auntie he spent his tortured childhood wishing he were. Impatient for his host to kick the bucket, he spends the rest of her life unloading the rage and brimstone of his traumatic childhood in the care of an alcoholic father and a mother who desperately wanted a girl. Before Kempt pesters Grace to death, we encounter a dramatic plot twist.
Kempt’s behaviour isn’t any more charming than when a 7 year old does it.
Marcel Jeannin completely misses Kempt’s humanity and opts instead for a single-tone petulance, which is in large part dictated by the structure of the first half-hour, which is spattered with black outs, interspersed by Marc Parent’s quite impressive choice of colours. The lights take us from dawn to dusk across the months and seasons it takes for the old broad to die already. Because Kempt spends the entire first act repeating “Are you dead yet? How about now? Are you dead now? Is this it? Are you dead yet? Are you dead yet? Are you dead yet?”-- We have to make the assumption that time has passed based on the lighting alone.
Kempt’s behaviour isn’t any more charming than when a 7 year old does it. His struggle with sexuality and gender identity are played for laughs, proving once and for all that trans people’s pain is hilarious, and although his timing is on point, his relentless annoyed impatience causes one to tune him out to observe his silent scene partner and miss out on important details of the story. Kim Yaroshevskaya, for her part as Grace, need only add a creak in the voice of Fanfreluche to create a similarly doll-like, but elderly caricature that is occasionally darling and mischievous, but which left me wondering, as I looked across the audience of the Segal Centre’s main space, if I were gray-haired, and of ailing health, would I see myself in this woman? Much in the same way I wondered how Kempt’s ridiculous wig and obvious mental instability would make me feel if I were queer.
Do senior subscribers feel, going to the theatre, as Grace does? Grace watches the spectacle, and reacts quietly, only very occasionally noticeably vocalizing. As I tried to ignore audience members around me repeating punch lines to each other, I wondered if this play reflects a senior audience, or at least, what many artists expect of them. What it seems Morris Panych is trying to show me is the bemused, sometimes scared, sometimes disapproving, but overall, easily entertained, elderly watching those crazy kids flail around doing their thing. They’re kinda nuts, and kind of annoying, kinda queer, and really not very nice at all, but hey! It’s company. Might as well enjoy it. But even if seniors will enjoy the company whether or not it’s any good, that shouldn’t mean it doesn’t have to be.