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By Bridgette M. Redman
You don’t need a lot of words to communicate a lot of meaning.
At least, you don’t if you’re Carmen Decker.
Timothy Busfield does nearly all the talking in Morris Panych’s “Vigil,” but Decker is far more than just a moving prop in this two-person dark comedy playing right now at Lansing Community College.
The show itself is a grant-funded show, a departure from LCC’s usual student productions. The grant allows them to bring in two professionals to present a production for both the local community and their students. The script itself is one that Decker originally took to Stormfield Theatre at the same time Busfield, an East Lansing native who went on to do movies and television, most notably “Field of Dreams” and “thirtysomething,” brought it to LCC. Stormfield put it into its season and LCC told Busfield they’d have to find something else for his homecoming performance. Then Stormfield closed, and it was back on the docket at LCC.
The script is a perfect vehicle for both of these actors’ talents. Busfield’s Kemp is a man filled with loathing for the world, for himself and for his relatives. He comes with a letter in hand from his aunt summoning him to her death bed. His attitude toward Decker’s Grace is one of cruelty, almost as if his presence at her death bed is an opportunity to revenge himself for a life of loneliness where none of his relatives stepped up to give him what he needed when he needed it.
Meanwhile, Grace listens noncommittally to his rantings, rarely leaving the bed and seeming in no hurry to get about the business of dying. Decker’s comedic ability shines through her entire physicality – the way she looks at Kemp, her trot when she does get out of bed, her frowns and her smirks. When she does speak, there is sometimes a barely suppressed glee or a hinting at the complex emotions that Grace has about the situations she has found herself in.
It’s a dark comedy, the end-of-life vigil filled with its conventions of what should and should not be discussed and Kemp’s disregard for most of those conventions. Nor is the vigil simply a waiting for Grace’s death, but it becomes a eulogy on Kemp’s lack of living and a loneliness even more severe than that of an elderly woman isolated to her home at the end of her life.
As a production, LCC has brought in the big guns not just on stage, but for those creating the environment in which the play’s action takes place.
Two Stormfield vets, Michelle Raymond and Katie Doyle, join the technical staff of “Vigil.” Raymond’s sound design creates the world outside the room, with sounds of the busy street life outside the window and through the rest of the house.
Doyle’s properties design finds the right mix of a home set in the present day, but filled with the belongings of an elderly woman that belong to bygone eras. The piece de resistance was Kemp’s home build-it-yourself project, built by the LCC tech staff members Tyler Rick and Dave Bischoff, that makes an appearance toward the end of the first act.
Fred Engelgau and Jeffry Wilson designed a set both practical and conceptual with its traditional room broken purposefully to let gaps in between flats. Donald Robert Fox provided a muted lighting plot that contributed a somber mood to the funereal-like scenes and his frequent black-outs contributed to a pacing that communicated a ponderousness quickly – no easy task.
Busfield and Decker work as naturally together as if they’d spent a lifetime honing reactions to each other’s abilities. Their timing never falters, with short scenes requiring them to quickly change their moods and stances.
What truly makes “Vigil” work is the relationship between these two and the unexpected journey that it takes. The actors find laughs in nearly every scene, even providing a Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner moment that Busfield plays for full comedic effect. The laughs, though, never drown out the sorrow or the heart of the play, making its commentary on the price we pay whether we connect with others or try to disconnect from humanity.
LCC Performing Arts at LCC Black Box Theatre, 411 Grand Avenue, Room 168, Lansing. Friday-Sunday through Sept. 23. 105 minutes. $15. 517-372-0945. http://www.lcc.edu/showinfo