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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Laugh At The Pain

Kathy Gallant
Published Wednesday March 4, 02:30 am
Vigil brings dark comedy to a sombre situation


Runs to March 29

Rawlco Radio Hall


Giggling during sombre situations is generally inappropriate, but we’ve all done it, right?


If you head to Persephone Theatre’s upcoming production of Vigil, here’s betting you’ll be doing it again — a lot.


Vigil, written by Edmonton playwright Morris Panych and directed by Persephone artistic director Del Surjik, takes a comedic and cockeyed approach to mourning.


The storyline sees the cynical Kemp rushing to his Aunt Grace’s side upon discovering she’s quickly approaching her final days. But in true theatrical fashion, he finds that this isn’t really the case.


“It’s a delicious, unusually dark comedy,” says Surjik. “It has brilliant writing, and the dialogue is filled with plot turns left and right.”


Vigil features a cast of only two, with Ted Cole portraying the nephew and Jane Redlyon as his dear, dying auntie. Surjik has worked with both actors previously, and is excited to have them take on these particular roles.


“I haven’t had a chance to bring Ted out for his comic skills yet, so it’s been great to see,” he says. “And Jane and I have history — I was a student and she was one of my teachers. Knowing these actors well has added a beautiful aspect to the process for us.”


The two characters have stark contrasts between them, especially when it comes to how much tongue-flapping they do. Kemp is verbose, while Aunt Grace’s exchanges are few, yet intuitive. For Redlyon, that means conveying emotion through physical expression.


“You don’t go away just because you don’t have many lines,” she says. “While I don’t speak much, I still have to exist and be present, act and react. It’s more than having to learn lines. For either of us, there’s no going off and having a breather in the dressing room. On the opposite side of the coin, Ted’s character speaks nonstop.”


Cole says he was very fortunate to have time to learn his lines before rehearsals started, getting a head start on his large task.


“It’s a different experience for me, coming in the first day of rehearsal and not carrying the script,” he says. “I still have to ask for the occasional line, but I’ve never played a role before where I knew most of the words verbatim.”


That preparation on Cole’s part has made rehearsals feel very real and organic, says Surjik.


“Thanks to the fact that Ted was prepared ahead of time, we can create the feeling of genuine movement impulses. Comedy is generated in a variety of ways — the play is really sharply smart, has ironic writing, and [Panych] also knows the value of a good sight-gag or a bit of slapstick as well, so that has to be choreographed and worked into the play.”


Another interesting factor of the casting is that Cole has a direct link to the playwright.


“I married his sister!” he laughs. “[Panych] more or less says to me that the character of Kemp is modeled after himself, so I joke that I’ve been studying this character for 23 years. We have a fairly close relationship — I’ve been to family gatherings with him, I’ve mourned with him and I’ve laughed with him, so I feel I have a deep connection to this play.”


Surjik says that one thing he prizes most about this script is how astonished the audience will be.


“The reward is in finding hilarity in some of the most outrageous sets of circumstances,” he says. “There will be some really special bonuses of insights into humanity that the play will deliver as well. There will be hidden rewards in an evening of dark, dark comedy.”


For Redlyon, Vigil also harkens back to the old-fashioned black and white movies of yore.


“In a way, it’s creepy,” she says. “I’ve always liked to see comedy as a very serious thing that the audience happens to find funny — and because of this, you have to be very careful in how you act.”


“It’s a very serious thing that the characters are playing, absolutely, and it will make it even more exquisite for the audience,” says Surjik. “If you come and see it, don’t give away the surprise to others — invite them to see it with a knowing smile and a twinkle in your eye. You’ll reap the reward the next time you run into them after they saw the production, and you’ll certainly have something to catch up with them about.”


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