Vigil

, by Morris Panych at Lantern Theater, is about a man waiting for an old woman to finally die. He waits and waits; months go by, the seasons change, and still he waits. Watching

Vigil

I could relate, waiting two hours for a dying play finally to end.

Despite the skills of two good actors, the script's gimmick wears thin quickly. Grace (Ceal Phelan) lies in bed, emaciated and silent. Kemp (Leonard C. Haas), presumably her nephew, chatters and whines about his dissatisfactions, his grudges, his lack of friends, his unloving parents, his longing for affection, his asexuality, all of which reveals his stunted personality: A more boring and unpleasant person you could not hope to meet. In fact, I wish I hadn't met him. Occasionally his conversation rises to metaphor, but he doesn't seem bright enough to be capable of saying what his author makes him say.

And when he's not bleating about his woes, he's inventing stupid ways to murder the old lady, Rube Goldberg contraptions that backfire and wind up bonking him on the head or nearly electrocuting him. Most of this is just unfunny farce, and Haas plays it broadly.

But, like the old lady, he is profoundly lonely, which is how the play intends to hook us into identifying and sympathizing with this odd couple.

Because she doesn't speak, Phelan's expressive face responds with a wide range of emotions, from astonishment to skepticism, from pity to irritation. She gets in and out of bed, she eats butterscotch pudding and knits. I imagine actors love this kind of challenge; audiences, not so much.

Director Peter DeLaurier handles the many, many blackouts between scenes (some of which seem designed mainly to annoy rather than accomplish anything) with music and a spotlit clock. Its audible ticking is the point (sound design by Chrisopher Colucci). You bet it is: I must have looked at my watch a dozen times.

Vigil

Presented by Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen's Theatre, 10th and Ludlow Streets. Through June 12. Tickets $20-$36. Information: www.lanterntheater.org or 215-829-0395.

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