La Vigilia (The Vigil)
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
August 13, 2008
Vincent Marano's play La Vigilia has an old-fashioned feeling about it. Meaning, it's kind of sentimental. In this way it contrasts with the hipper, edgier plays I have often seen at FringeNYC. At the start of the play, Ferra, the narrator who is also a character in the play, tells the audience that the play is a fable, and perhaps that explains the old-fashioned feeling. She tells us not to think too much but to enjoy ourselves as we watch what happens.
La Vigilia takes place in Florence, Italy on the day of La Vigilia, a traditional, Italian Christmas Eve feast. A rich but mean woman, La Signore Avare, whose husband abandoned her 20 years ago on the night of La Vigilia, is hosting the feast as she does every year. A mysterious stranger who calls himself Sagesto—a man who seems to be able to get everyone to follow his wishes—comes into town and promises Onesto, La Signore's servant, and Ferra, a strong-headed woman who runs a hotel in Florence, he will help them win the loves of their lives. La Signore invites him to the feast, and every character is changed—except the fool, Zlo, who just wants to be left alone anyhow—by the end of the night.
The play is funny and insightful and the production has a lot going for it, especially the actors. As Zlo, Michael Black uses physical comedy to show his joy and simplicity. As Ferra, Elka Rodriguez transitions from being street-smart and bullyish to someone who can express her passion and use her charm. Her high energy at the start of the play establishes the tone of the piece. As Onesto, Ridley Parson, shows love, loyalty—and musical talent! I really saw the journey his character made. Victoria Bundonis's La Signora Avare is emotional and strong. Her character builds up a lot of emotion behind a mask until she bursts out with the question she has been wondering all night and realizes what she's lost over the past 20 years by blaming herself for her mistake. As Sagesto, James Michael Armstrong probably steals the show, though in such a strong cast, that's not easy. His charm makes it believable that he'd be able to get everyone to do what he says. His storytelling captured my interest and held my attention tight.
The music between scenes—Italian, festive music—put me into the mood of the play, especially with Michael Black's dancing during the scene changes. The platforms with street scenes painted upon them are a simple and effective way to establish the setting.
Overall, La Vigilia is a successful piece. After I left, I found myself pondering some of the lessons of the fable: how the mistakes of the past grip us and hold us down, how the people in our lives form a kind of family, how we are all so foolish. I felt that I had just watched a play that's been established, a play that has been around awhile, and I hope that it is. Perhaps, that is what I mean by old-fashioned.