To lose a loved one is a living nightmare. Reality warps as memories of what was mingle with the regrets of what could have been. Would that loved one still be here if the last words spoken had been different?

This grieving process manifests itself on Mad Horse Theatre’s stage in Noah Haidle’s quirky “Vigils.”

In the play, directed by Nathan Speckman, a Widow (Janice Gardner) is unable to let go of her firefighter husband, who died two years prior. Her life, past and present, plays out on stage like a film reel spliced together in random order. And where reality ends, her imagination is given form.

The Widow isn’t just clinging to her husband’s memory. She literally has his Soul (Burke Brimmer) locked in a box, taking it out for chats and hugs.

The line between the past and present blurs as not only the Widow’s memories play out on stage, but also those of her husband’s Soul and Body (Mark Rubin). Among all the memories, a Wooer (Jody McColman) is vying for the Widow’s affection.

“Vigils” playfully turns the figurative into the literal, visually highlighting the trappings that prevent us from moving on. The play also toys with perception, allowing the audience to see events replayed through the eyes of different characters.

Gardner is heartbreakingly funny as the grief-stricken Widow, conveying both the comic nuances and vulnerability of the situation. She adds levity without detracting from her character’s inner turmoil and blinding grief.

The Widow’s figurative blindness cleverly manifests itself in the Soul’s literal blindness. Brimmer wears opaque contacts during the performance, adding eeriness to his vacant stare.

Brimmer is well cast as the Soul, adding dry wit to his character’s allegorical existence.

Rubin’s character, the Body, is the definition of insanity and reveals the Widow’s stagnated life. She puts on the same black dress every day, and the Body is forced repeatedly to re-enact its final moments.

“I am Sisyphus,” quips Rubin’s character. “This play is my boulder.”

Rubin showed versatility Friday, subtly changing his mannerisms to show how memories of events can be altered by perception and time.

Under the grief, the Widow still holds on to the hope that she can find happiness again. That hope is embodied in the form of the Wooer, who desperately wants to find someone to love.

McColman is endearing, bringing a nerdy exuberance to the role.

Raina Sparks rounds out the cast as the Child, simultaneously representing the baby the husband died trying to save, and the baby the Widow miscarried early in their marriage.

Mad Horse’s cast delivers a multi-layered performance that explores the universal themes of love and loss. “Vigils” entertains, all the while challenging audience members to evaluate the barriers to their own happiness.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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