Ian Walker’s ‘Vigilance’ explores vigilantism with intelligently disturbing drama

(Charles Kruger)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“Vigilance” a new play by Ian Walker, presented by Second Wind Productions. Director: Ian Walker. Set: Fred Sharkey. Costumes: Scarlett Kellum. Lights: Rob Siemens. Sound: Ian Walker.

Frank: Leon Goertzen. Dick: Stephen Muterspaugh. Virgil: Mike Newman. Bert: Ben Ortega. Cathy: Kim Stephenson. Marla: Natalie Palan Walker. Duncan: Steven Westdahl.

(performance attended Saturday, February 4, 2012)

New neighbor Duncan (Steven Westdahl) is a living nightmare. After winning an upscale home in a raffle, he moves in and proceeds to trash the neighborhood. His behavior is as bad as you can imagine: he dumps trash everywhere, makes physical threats, nearly causes a fatal automobile accident and even exposes himself to his neighbor’s eight year old daughter. It seems that the local sheriff is ineffective in curbing this behavior. Clearly, something must be done and Virgil is the man to do it. The sort of man who is prepared to take things into his own hands, Virgil (Mike Newman) organizes his neighbors into a committee to confront the newcomer at gunpoint. The confrontation goes badly when Duncan laughs in their faces (after taking some incriminating photographs) and they withdraw in confusion.

When Duncan is shot and killed in his yard early the following morning, the drama escalates. Was he killed by one of the vigilante committee? If so, who? Was it justifiable homicide?

Playwright and director Ian Walker makes the most of this material, developing perspectives on all sides and giving us characters with complex back stories and full emotional lives. By keeping the arguments well grounded in their actual histories and circumstances, he avoids becoming polemical and gives us a satisfying drama offering plenty of food for thought.

Stephen Muterspaugh and Mike Newman in Second Wind Theatre's "Vigilance" by Ian Walker. Photo Credit: Second Wind Theatre.

The ensemble is excellent, and Walker gives them great stuff to work with. In the course of the play, each character provides successive well-motivated revelations, never gratuitous. This is a remarkably well-written piece. Mike Newman as Virgil and Natalie Palan Walker as his wife, Marla, present a complicated marriage with many facets. Steven Westdahl as Duncan succeeds in humanizing and garnering empathy for a character who at first appears wholly unsympathetic. Leon Goertzen, Ben Ortega, Kim Stephenson and Stephen Muterspaugh each provide performances of depth and subtlety.

Playwright Ian Walker, a founding member of Second Wind Theatre, is a writer of impressive political and psychological sensibility, unafraid to tackle large themes and with the skills to do it right. If you care about new theatre,  you will certainly find that this is a company and a playwright to watch. Their reputation will only continue to grow.

Highly recommended. Vigilance continues at The Phoenix Theatre through February 25. For further information, click here.

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