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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: The Out Vigil deserves our attention

I passed on the opening of the big Broadway musical that flew into to town last night to witness the birth of first-time playwright Julie McIsaac’s new script, The Out Vigil. I made the right choice.

Part of Twenty Something Theatre’s ongoing commitment to producing and developing new Canadian works, the same program that gave us Sean Minogue’s critically acclaimed Prodigals a couple of years ago, The Out Vigil, is deserving of our attention.

New play development can be long, costly and fraught with uncertainty, especially for small independent theatre companies, but it is taking the risk to nurture and support new material that puts theatre-makers like Twenty Something at the forefront.  Led by a seemingly endless energy and desire to embrace and engage with younger audiences that are at times desperate to see their lives reflected on stage, Twenty Something Theatre’s Artistic Producers, Sabrina Evertt and Brian Cochrane, are not only paving the way for the next generation of artist but the audience as well.

As for The Out Vigil itself, with its beautifully realized production values inside the sometimes unforgiving Havana Theatre space, it is easy to forget that this is a workshop production. But more than Ian Schimpf’s evocative set and lighting design and the original music from the playwright herself, there is an underlying warmth in McIsaac’s words and in the relationship between Lizzie and Danny that is both comfortable and familiar.

Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt here, though, as McIsaac pushes at the proverbial envelope, creating a uniquely Canadian love story filled with the sounds, dreams and superstitions of both a people and a nation.

Going in knowing that this is still a work-in-progress helps temper some of the expectations. For all its strengths, there is, and rightly so, much to work on. Act one is particularly problematic as the timeline jumps need more clarity. By intermission, it wasn’t entirely clear whether Matthew MacDonald-Bain was playing more than a single character; McIsaac’s shifts in time and place are compelling, but they shouldn’t be confusing.

The idea of “The Out Vigil” itself, a ritual McIsaac has created for the women to perform as their men go out to sea, could also use some fleshing out. This is especially true with its introduction in act one, which is almost lost. The layering of this superstition on top of the story gives some of the play’s unique quality, and, as demonstrated by the play’s beautiful and powerful closing, it is an element that is crying out for more stage time.

It is in the unexpected moments that elevate a play, a film, or even music beyond the ordinary. McIsaac has given us some of those moments in this version of The Out Vigil; hopefully, there are more to come as she takes what she learns from this workshop production to the next level, encouraged and supported by the team at Twenty Something Theatre.

In the meantime, Vancouver audiences should flock to Havana to witness the birth of not just a new play with great promise but also a new local playwright. As the theatre-going public, we need to support and nurture these endeavours, as if the very life of our city’s theatre experience depends on it.

The Out Vigil.  By Julie McIsaac. Directed by Sabrina Evertt. A Twenty Something Theatre production.  On stage at the Havana Theatre (1212 Commercial Dr) through May 31.  Visit for tickets and information.

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