Review: The Gigli Concert (Soulpepper)

Tom Murphy’s famed play of illusions and mental illness, The Gigli Concert, takes to the Young Centre

A washed-up quack of a self-help therapist startles awake in his apartment-office to the sound of the doorbell and the arrival of a possible client, his second one ever. Which is perfect because the bills are piling up. There’s just one interesting problem, this guy demands to sing like an opera tenor in six easy sessions. Is he insane or a virtuoso waiting to be discovered? Either way — he’s paying in cash up front.

And thus Soulpepper‘s The Gigli Concert begins in what will be a heavy hitting two-and-a-half hour piece of structurally dynamic and eye-opening theatre. It’s a piece of theatre that has just the right amount of well-placed laughs without turning it into a full on comedy, the right amount of tender moments to be touching and heartfelt without being overdrawn, and most importantly the right amount of well-written and intriguing dialogue and commentary between characters to keep you enthralled.

Diego Matamoros helms this small cast as JPW King, a “dynamatologist” (a fictional science created by the playwright similar to psychiatry) on his last remaining strings of hope to pull together some sort of viable career who receives a chance visit from the Irish Man (Stuart Hughes). King doesn’t learn much from the Irish Man save for the important facts — he wants to sing like Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli in only six hour-long sessions, and his fortune made as a building contractor means just that, fortune.

The heart and soul of this play exists in King’s life and the discoveries he makes within himself triggered by the arrival of this mysterious patient. He knows his life has reached a dead end, that much is clear, he knows that he’s working a quack practice and holding on for all it’s worth. He occasionally is visited by his girlfriend Mona (Irene Poole) whose revelation of her cancer diagnosis digs King further into his own pit of despair.

Though at first hesitant, the further King and the Irish Man delve into their explorations of self and realization, finding commonality in their search for purpose and meaning as fueled by King’s growing appreciation for Gigli’s performances, King finds himself saved in very unexpected ways.

This performance thoroughly complex in its simplicities. A single set, the cluttered apartment-office, and three characters carry this lengthy production. Admittedly, I was walking into this show blind having no previous familiarity with Irish playwright Tom Murphy, but hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the theatrical magnitude of a Soulpepper production. I was still a little uneasy at the sheer length of the production especially when I realized that it was a production fueled by carefully written dialogue — this is not a time or place to let the mind wander.

And it did take a while for me to be lured into the production’s charms, mostly in trying to mentally piece together the fictions and the realities of the characters — what was real in the moment versus what was real to them — before settling into it. What I was left with was an intriguing story of self actualization as discovered through the haze of mental illness as well as a poetic casting away of self-imposed nihilism.

The performances are resounding to watch as Matamoros and Hughes have taken such great care to understand, embody and bring these characters to life with director Nancy Palk at the helm leading the way. What truly captured me was King’s ultimate transformation as he sheds his mental layers and comes into himself and I am quite impressed by the way Matamoros took to portraying that rawness of human nature.

The Gigli Concert is not the easiest of productions to settle into, but when you allow yourself to, it’s not hard to find its worth.

Details:

  • The Gigli Concert is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane).
  • Performances run until May 16.
  • Tickets range from $29 – $74 depending on seating.
  • Tickets can be purchased in advance online or last minute by calling the box office at 416-866-8666 or in person at the theatre.

Photo of Stuart Hughes and Diego Matamoros by Cylla von Tiedemann.

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