Dissociative Me by Loose Tea Music Theatre opened at the luxurious RED nightclub. My guest and I opted for a leather couch bathed in red light. Everything around us was dark and dripping with drama. It may not have been a grand theatre, but this location was striking enough for an opera. Especially for a show that describes itself as “not your grandfather’s opera”.
The show is based off of Gounod’s Faust, in which a scholar makes a deal with the devil for success and pays a heavy price for it. A more modern understanding of this tale would be in The Little Mermaid, when Ariel signs a contract with the seawitch Ursula. Whether you prefer Gounod or Disney, the cautionary tale is universally understood: don’t make a deal that you can’t pay for.
Dissociative Me stars Kijong Wi as John Faustus, who graduated from the University of Toronto with a PhD in Astrophysics but can’t seem to get any work. He considers suicide, when the baritone voice of Michael York comes from the darkness. It’s not the devil. It’s not a seawitch. It’s John’s inner-demon, which he’s managed to suppress with medication for years. John’s inner demon sports a slick black suit and the name Lee. With a bit of coaxing from Lee, John gives up the control of his body for Lee to use as he sees fit. The show unfurls to show the terrible cost of having your dreams come true.
The show was particularly interesting because it blended the classical medium of opera with the modern, and even the mundane. Characters sang Justin Bieber, texted on cellphones, and took selfies. The casual bits of modern life were thrown in the midst of a traditional tragedy. Each insertion felt like a wink and a nudge to the audience, which made this heavy pill a little easier to swallow.
My main issue with the play was that the entire theme of the inner-demon, of John’s struggle with Lee, got a little lost in the drama. I wanted them to really delve into the concept of mental illness. I would have preferred if Lee remained a shadow for most of the first act. If they were going to play with mental illness, I think it would have been interesting if they showed the progression of the effects of John staying off his medication. The voice would take shape, and then the voice would take over him. The lines between John and Lee, body and mind, and good and evil, would be blurred to greater effect.
Or, if they kept the introduction the same, I would have preferred that they reined in the love story with Margarita and interactions with her brother Stephen. In the end, I think if you’re going to use an idea that’s out of the box, it seems redundant to execute it in the same way as the a story that’s in the box.
I think the concept faltered mostly because of the pacing. The first act was long, with most of the action happening in the first five minutes. The second act felt like a crazed blink, as if if they were trying to pack in as much content into the smallest box they could find. The jump to the tragedy was too sudden. I felt like the stakes weren’t actually high, I was just told they were.
In the show’s defense, the singing was incredibly impressive. Michael York exceeds as the baritone, harmonizing and sometimes overpowering Kijong Wi’s tenor. Ki Jong’s voice is strong, but sometimes difficult to understand. Johnathon Kirby, playing the role of Margarita’s brother Stephen, had a rich baritone that contrasted his character’s aggravating personality. Johnathan Sandberg as Wagner and Fabian Arciniegas as Mike were both fine sidekicks in character and song.
The voice that knocked the wind out of me belonged to Beth Hagerman, who played the innocent love-interest Magarita. Her character was simple and saccharine, but Hagerman is a powerhouse. Her singing was incredible.
Even if the story could use better pacing and focus, the reason to come for the show is the singing. This is a show that’s meant be heard. If you want to give your ear a treat, I would recommend seeing this Dissociative Me.
- Dissociative Me is playing at RED Nightclub (135 Liberty street)
Performances are runs on Thursday August 20th and Saturday 22nd at 7:30pm.
- Tickets are $30 per seat. If you want sofa seating, you have to pay for the entire sofa ($100-$110). Sofas can seat 3 to 4 people.
- Tickets can be purchased online.
Photo provided by Loose Tea Music Theatre