Review: Julie Sits Waiting (Good Hair Productions)


Julie Sits Waiting is a modern, gritty opera playing at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille

My partner is very opera-oriented so in the last couple of years that we’ve been together I’ve been experiencing and learning about the genre. I’ve discovered that, while I can definitely enjoy old school offerings, I am particularly taken with more modern fare, which has a tendency towards more abstract music, experimentations with atonality, etc. This was a big part of why I was interested to see the brand new opera Julie Sits Waiting by Good Hair Day Productions.

The other reason was that the libretto was written by Tom Walmsley, known for writing plays and novels that are brimming with perverse sex and horrible violence.

It plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, which is the epitome of the word “intimate” when it comes to venues. This was a real treat, as all the other opera I’ve seen has been at the Canadian Opera Company or Elgin/Winter Garden Theatres, where there’s too much distance to see each neck muscle move as the performers sing. In the Backspace I could see the sweat on Fides Krucker and Richard Armstrong’s brows; I could see the look in their eyes as they fell further down the rabbit hole of adulterous lust and murderous rage.

Some people like their music to always sound “pretty” and Julie Sits Waiting is not for them. Richard Armstrong is known for “extended voice”, a technique that aims to include the breadth of sounds a human voice can make. At times, particularly during an aria where he struggles with his inability to love God – a rather big deal, as he’s an Anglican priest – he ranges from bel canto to a strained demonic voice, straight out of an exorcism movie.

Fides Krucker also sometimes sounds hoarse in her bottom end, evoking the overwhelming emotion of her situation even through pitch-perfect singing.

The show also includes interludes of music/soundscape with projected images, some of them identifiable as, for example, celestial bodies moving through space, while others are entirely abstract. I failed to see how it added to the story, but I felt like I would have very much appreciated it if I had been in an altered state of mind.

The hallucinogenic aspect of the projections was assisted by the set design, done by Teresa Przybylski, which featured a plethora of shards of “glass”. These reflected the projections in various directions, while also symbolising the shattering of the characters’ lives.

I would have liked a little bit more backstory. The show posits that all these problems start for the two when they first meet and fall in love, and we know that they found each other on the internet. So – how? Was it a dating site? Ashley Madison? If so then they had already decided to engage in the affair before meeting. Why did Julie want to cheat on her husband? Anglicans are allowed to marry, so was Mick married? If not, why not? Why did he agree to meet a married woman from the internet for a date? I get the idea that he was already tortured in his relationship with his God and so perhaps he was just inviting sin into his life.

Eschewing details in favour of dramatics is typical of opera, so it wasn’t untoward. This is also a 67 minute play at this point, so it could be expanded to include more backstory. Who knows, maybe next year this will be a three hour Canadian Opera Company production replete with a chorus of dancing altar boys.

Details

– Julie Sits Waiting plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave) till September 23, 2012
– Shows are at 7:30 pm Tuesday to Saturday and 2 pm on Sunday
– Tickets are $30 Tuesday to Thursday, $40 on Friday & Saturday, and $30 in advance or PWYC at the door on Sunday matinees
– For tickets call 416-504-7529 or visit www.artsboxoffice.ca