Playhouse opens for season with dark comedy
Jun 28, 2012 | 2181 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CHESTERFIELD, NH- The Actors Theater Playhouse opened its 38th season on June 14 with Canadian playwright Morris Panych’s richly dark comedy, “Vigil.” Directed by Terri Storti, “Vigil,” a two-character play, is a cautionary tale about a nephew, Kemp, 30-years estranged from his aunt Grace, who dashes to her home after she writes a letter to him saying she’s about to die.

The ostensibly mute old woman doesn’t seem quite ready to pass on beyond the pearly gates and the nephew soon grows impatient. At one point he says to her, “I’m concerned about your health these last few days; it seems to be improving.” And so the dark humor continues throughout the evening.

Storti, who has directed and acted at ATP, says that she did not know the play until Sam Pilo, one of the founding directors of ATP, gave her a copy. “Sam may have been familiar with the play for quite a while, but it was new to me when he shared it with me last year. Apparently he thought that my taste ran to the dark side of comedy after directing ‘Fuddy Meers.’ My first impression of ‘Vigil’ was that it was a wonderful dark comedy when I read it, and then I thought, ‘But how do you make it work in front of an audience?’

“I like a challenge, so I went for it, but I also knew we couldn’t pull it off without a very strong actor for the role of Kemp. I knew that Greg Lesch was the guy for the part. He and I have worked together quite a bit, and I have tremendous respect for his work as an actor and his sense of style. It was just what the play needed, and I was pretty sure he’d embrace the challenge.”

“Vigil’s” challenges are unique, as Storti explains, “Style is important,” Storti says. “As the director, it seems critical to set the right farcical tone to deal with a very serious subject. The play is very funny, but sometimes the humor makes one think, ‘Should I be laughing at this?’

There are times that there is a sort of Wiley Coyote feel to the action, and other moments are really quite poignant. Finding the right balance is important. As much fun as comedy is, you never know if it really works until you have an audience. The audience sort of teaches you the timing.”

Storti elaborates, “Although the writing is very clever and witty, the play is written in a series of rather static scenes, to make it play in front of an audience requires ingenuity in lighting and sound to keep the audience engaged. Managing props becomes a huge task. They almost need to be choreographed to keep the action moving. It takes a great deal of effort on the part of a lot of people to pull off the finished product. Fortunately, I have great people onstage and off to make it all work.”

Also “Vigil” offers particular challenges for both actors. Storti points out that “Lesch’s Kemp has practically all the lines, which requires great energy and discipline from him. Also, Kemp is just not a very likeable guy, so finding the humanity of the character is important while playing the comedy. The role requires a wide range of emotion, but he also has to keep track of what comes next because he drives the action.

“For Nancy Groff, who plays Grace, her challenge is to create a character and communicate without speaking most of the time. Sometimes that is even more of a challenge.”

For Storti, she relishes the fact that she can work on a play differently than before, “We have been working on it since April. We’ve approached it in not the same way as I usually would like to rehearse. (At this writing) We’re actually still blocking, in the sense that we are incorporating props into the action. It’s taking some time to figure out the flow of the piece, how to establish a sense of time passing and discovering the arc of the story we are telling

“Lesch and I spent time just working on some of his longer speeches initially. He has done a monumental job of mastering his lines early on, by the way, so that we can really dig into what makes this guy tick. If his character isn’t rooted in reality, the humor just won’t work.”

“Vigil” is a humorous look at all those emotions that surround the end of life, even though that humor may make us grimace as well.

“Vigil,” is the sixth play Storti has directed for ATP. Her most recent show as a director was “Fuddy Meers,” in 2010. The Reformer commented that the audience should, “Just be ready to suspend belief and enjoy yourself. You’ll have a belly-full of laughs.” Lesch and Groff were in that production. Prior to coming to the region, Storti earned a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from the University of Southern California; was a member of Equity, AFTRA and SAG; toured with a rep company; did summer stock; and worked professionally in Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, and Orlando.

“Vigil” plays on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings through July 7. Tickets on Thursdays are $12, students $6; Fridays $15, students $8; and Saturdays all tickets are $15. Reservations are strongly recommended. Curtain time is 7:30 pm for all performances.

Call (877) 666-1855 for reservations and seasonal information of performances, dates, ticket prices, and directions to the playhouse. Visit for more information.
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