Perhaps it is the language barrier. Although, except for the province of Québec, most Canadians speak English. Perhaps it is that Americans and not Canadians are producing, directing, and starring in plays by Canadian playwrights. Maybe Canadian jokes just don't produce American laughter. Having seen several plays by Canadian playwright George Walker and now one by Morris Panych, this reviewer just doesn't get the humor. The latest non–laugh fest is this production by San Diego's The Fritz Theatre.
The play begins with Kemp (the very talented Ron Choularton) appearing in long black coat, bowler hat, and suitcase in hand in the doorway of Grace's (a very expressive Pat DiMeo, who is speechless until the end of the first act) bedroom, which is somewhere in England in the recent past. Kemp delivers a setup line, follows with a punch line, which is followed by a blackout, which is followed by a laugh or not. This goes on for several minutes before the scenes finally begin to run longer than 30 seconds. It seems Grace has written a letter to Kemp, her nephew, to tell him she is dying. The very lonely and needy Kemp quits his dead-end bank job and arrives to keep a deathwatch for his only living relative. Except Grace doesn't die; she seems to get healthier with each cup of butterscotch pudding Kemp gives her. Days go by. Weeks go by. An entire year goes by before Grace admits she's not his long-lost aunt. She just enjoyed having his company.
The humor is dark but not all that funny—lots of talk of cremation, urns, headstones, suicide, and the like. I must admit the audience laughed much more than I did, but it was the more quiet, embarrassed type of laughter instead of the full-out guffaw type. It would have been interesting to see what a Joe Orton or even a Christopher Durang would have made of this situation. Panych doesn't make much of it. Rosina Reynolds' direction could use a bit more pacing and energy. The acting is fine but the whole endeavor feels as bedridden as Grace.
"Vigil," produced by The Fritz Theatre at the 6th@Penn Theatre in San Diego. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun 3 & 7 p.m. Feb. 26-Mar. 27. $18-22. (619) 233-7505.