Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Vigil or The Guided Cradle

If you take it from the pompous Balto (Vinnie Penna) and his bumbling assistant Aldo (Travis York), two interrogators in the Middle Ages, torture is an art. If so, then under Crystal Skillman's wandering hand, it's a spattered Pollock. How else to explain her new play, The Vigil or The Guided Cradle, a work crammed full of rushed and colliding ideas?

When it comes to the physical stuff, John Hurley's a happy director, and he gets a lot of mileage out of the solemn conversation between the imprisoned Jan (Joseph Mathers) and his torturer, Ippolito (Christian Rummel), a man who threatens the bloody sanctity of Balto's profession with his newfangled devices. (The inspiration for this play: a pyramid under the victim's prostate. If they did not keep themselves awake--a vigil--they would impale themselves on the tip--the guided cradle--and thereby wear themselves down mentally and physically.) But nobody knows how to handle the forced connection between these scenes, set in the past, and the modern ones between Translator (Dion Mucciacito) and Foreigner (Susan Louise O'Connor), especially when the two worlds start merging--despite having no parallels between them.

Amidst all the confusing plotting, the actual drama often gets lost, too. Prime (Alex Pappas) is meant to rule his prison with an iron fist (and apparently an iron dick, given his frequent "inspections" of female prisoners), but his request that Ippolito perform an abortion not only comes out of left field, but without any actual action. It makes a convenient sort of sense that the Translator is seeking revenge on the Foreigner's father--a covert torturer himself--but reducing him to nothing more than a mere kidnapper--well, that takes morality out of the discussion and leaves O'Connor with nothing to do, other than to play the entitled, ignorant American. Granted, torture is generally a one-sided affair (just look at the endless repetitions of 24), but shouldn't the ends at least justify the means?

In this case, The Vigil cops out and ends with a reality-blurring scene that speaks to the redemptive hope that comes only when we set each other free. If this final bit were earned instead of being tied up in a bunch of cryptic claptrap, it might actually be effective. Instead, it's just a merciful fade to black.

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