‘Vigil’ at A.C.T. – “Surefire Hit”; Roman Polanski Film – “Hitchhcock-esque!”

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on April 2, 2010


The scene opens on a cluttered apartment (reminds me of mine). A light shines through a window. You might say that this is an apartment of a ‘collector’ who should go to “Clutterers Anonymous.” Everywhere you look, there are piles of junk. Empty Birdcages, clothes, a stuffed chair that has lost a leg and an old Iron Bed. It is easy to see that this room has not been cared for in ages. But, at night – there is a wondrous light that comes through the window. Grace lives here. She is dying and lonely. She is thin and possibly undernourished. Then Kemp arrives. Grace had written to Kemp (her nephew) to let her know that she was not in the best of shape. And would like to see him before she dies.

Kemp is an outspoken, quirky person who is quick on the insults. He sees an opportunity here. He quit his nowhere job at a Bank – thinking that the old lady might have some money that she would leave him.

The script is just terrific. And not surprising is the fantastic acting that Olympia Dukakis does in the play. In the first act, she doesn’t utter a word until the end of the act. “Have a Merry Christmas!” The wonder and amazement here is that she was acting all the time, with the use of expression and her eyes. Let me say – that this is “simply brilliant.” Doing what she does is more difficult than talking. However in the second act, she does say a few words. Not as much as Kemp – who talks incessantly. His comments are very droll. But, he says them, of course, in the ‘best possible way’. Kemp to his Aunt: “I didn’t know you were still alive. Do you want to be cremated?” At one point he climbs up on her bed and shoves a will in front of her: “All right – so I didn’t visit you for 30 years. Here, sign your will today. You’re leaving everything to me!” In his rather bitchy way, he brings food to his dying Aunt — lets her eat a little, then grabs the tray, and says: “I think you’ve eaten enough. You’ll never fit in the box (Coffin). By the way – what should I do with your dentures?”

The plot just zings with hilarious asides. It may sound cruel – but hey, the Aunt is glad that someone is visiting her. She is lonely – and actually as the show goes on, she plays along. You see it in her eyes. She is really enjoying this.

Mario Barricelli is sinfully fantastic in this cat and mouse game. I was solidly hooked. There is not a clue of how this will all turn out. And, don’t look to me to give away the whiplash ending. It’s too remarkable – I would rather you see it for yourself.

Morris Panych (playwright/director) has given us a play that is easily the funniest, smartest and most outrageous Theater Treat of the season. Gliding the scenes along are the fascinating blackouts that make each segment pop out with another blast of wonderful dialogue.

Cheers to Ken MacDonald (Scenery and costumes).
Another Cheer to Alan Brodie (Lighting) and more Cheers for “Allessandro Juliani and Meg Roe (Sound).

*Heard in the aisle on the way out. “The play is about dying – and Blue Shield is the Sponsor.”



(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles for the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS – KQED)))

Ewan McGregor in “The Ghost Writer.” Courtesy photo.



THE STORY: Ewan McGregor is a writer who has been hired to replace another ‘Ghost Writer’. He is to assist a Mr. Lang (Pierce Brosnan) in the publication of memoirs. Of course, this being a thriller and a mystery, things get more complicated than McGregor could have imagined.

Is this film Noir? It certainly has all the elements. There is enough political intrigue to satisfy any political junkie. Many scenes hark back to the glory days of filmmaking. It’s very Hitchcock-esque.

Polanski is a wiz at no matter what he does. Those of you who have seen ‘Chinatown’ or ‘The Tenant’ already know what a genius the guy is. Yes, this is classic filmmaking.

There are many surprises in the movie, and part of the fun is trying to figure out who are the bad guys, and who are not. Why are they trying to kill the ‘Ghostwriter’? As a writer Ewan’s character did not realize that his new job was full of danger.

There are no fast cuts – or other cinematic over the top stuff. Polanski keeps us riveted to the screen by creating interest that makes our mind do some pretty heavy mind probing.

This deftly plotted movie is psychologically thrilling.

GIVING BRAVORA PERFORMANCES ARE: EWAN McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall and Olivia Williams.

Now Playing at Theatres everywhere.

RATING: FOUR BOXES OF POPCORN!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked-

The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour. www.lafterhall.com.

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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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