WEST CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- Kemp did not make a good first impression on Gregory Lesch.
"He’s not the sort of person you want to have dinner with," said Lesch, who first came to know Kemp when he opened the pages of the script to Morris Panych’s dark comedy, "Vigil," and encountered the caustic, sarcastic and wounded soul named Kemp who is the central character in the play.
"When I first read it, I said, ‘My God, who would want to spend an evening with this guy?’ ... But you do sort of want to spend time with him because you do want to know what he’s all about. ... I think you will go along for the ride."
Your chance begins tonight. The Actors Theatre Playhouse opens its 38th season tonight with Canadian playwright Panych’s "Vigil," directed by Terri Storti.
"Vigil" plays on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., through July 7.
A two-character play, "Vigil" is a cautionary tale about a nephew (Kemp), 30-years estranged from his aunt (Grace), who dashes to her home after she writes a letter to him saying she’s about to die. That’s when things get interesting.
"It’s about their encounter," said Lesch, a longtime star on the ATP stage, who came to know and really enjoy exploring Kemp’s character. "He’s a malcontent. He’s had a tough life. ... He’s a real lost-soul kind of person. He’s not a real people-person. He’s kind of
Kemp is thrust intensely into the company of his globetrotting, glamorous aunt whom he once idolized, who is ostensibly mute. Played by Nancy Groff, the aunt has about a dozen lines or so.
"She has just as tough a job as I do," said Lesch.
Most of the words are Kemp’s, who we see dealing with this relative of his who doesn’t seem quite ready to pass beyond the pearly gates. At one point he says to her, "I’m concerned about your health these last few days; it seems to be improving."
"He’s a very funny, sardonic, sarcastic individual. He’s entertaining in that regard," said Lesch. "He’s not the same person at the end of the play than he was at the beginning. It’s a very interesting play."
It’s also interesting because the language is rich, and it evokes a range of moods -- darkly comic, it is also touching and poignant at times. There are even times "when it morphs into this Looney Toons/Roadrunner situation," said Lesch, who declined to elaborate for fear of spoiling the fun.
Through it all, we are mostly entertained, but some larger lessons do emerge.
"It gives people a lot of insight into the human condition. You don’t necessarily identify with Kemp, but I think people will find kernels in him," said Lesch. "It’s a play about opportunity and moving on in our lives and not getting stuck in the past. ... We all have baggage that we carry around, and if you don’t let that baggage go, you have this huge backpack by the time you die."
"Vigil" is the sixth play Terri Storti has directed for ATP. Her most recent show as a director was "Fuddy Meers" in 2010. Lesch and Groff were in that production.
Tickets on Thursdays are $12 ($6 for students), on Fridays are $15 ($8 for students) and on Saturdays $15 for all tickets. Reservations are recommended. Call 877-666-1855 for reservations and information. To find out more, you can also visit www.Actors-Theatre.info.