As You Lay Sleeping is a mesmerizing original musical about a woman unravelling the pain of a broken relationship and finding her way through to the other side. Playing as part of Fringe Primetime at the 2021 Digital Toronto Fringe Festival, this is a live feature-length digital experience that includes a pre-recorded middle act. Produced by Diapause Collective, this show is spellbinding and affecting, and a reminder of the magic of even partially live theatre.
As You Lay Sleeping is told in three parts. Part one is “Between Lying Down and Falling Asleep”. In it, writer, composer and actor Amelia Izmanki establishes the scene: she’s in a relationship with her boyfriend that’s falling apart. They’re in bed, he’s sleeping soundly beside her, but she can’t fall sleep. What she feels in her gut is gnawing at her, keeping her awake.
In lieu of restful sleep, she narrates her feelings about their relationship to her boyfriend’s sleeping face. She speaks and sings freely, without inhibition. The music and sound design are layered and haunting. Her anxiety feels (sounds) palpable, as though we’re deep in the wilderness with her, too. Unable to contend with what has transpired between them any longer, she leaves him a recording of her voice, as she explains that she has to end the relationship.
Part two is “Love and Everything Else”. Here, Izmanki plays a wedding guest, a friend of the couple, giving a toast to their tortured love story at their would-be wedding. She’s charming and omniscient, and reveals the heartbreak the couple shared. Izmanki alternates as the would-be bride, too. She performs sorrowful love ballads and there is beautiful imagery as she plates a wedding cake that won’t be eaten. It’s as though she’s eradicating the ghosts of their love story from her body, feeling their last gust before they leave, elsewhere into the night.
Part three is “We Get Lost”. It plays out like a homecoming, as Izmanki’s character finds her way back to herself. This is done literally, as she enters her house and begins to turn on all the lights. But she also finds her way back to her instruments – her piano, her guitar, her voice – her friends, and a sense of possibility for her future. Everything doesn’t feel so heavy anymore. The ending feels like dropping your shoulders, exhaling deeply, and trusting that you’re going to be okay.
As You Lay Sleeping won the Digital Adams Prize for Musical Theatre and after watching it, I understand why. This experimental musical does so many things well. Amelia sings and plays various instruments throughout the show: piano, violin, guitar. Eliza Niemi plays the cello and Barbara Hankins plays the clarinet. It doesn’t sound like a traditional musical with large numbers, but more like an intimate, confessional-style show. Part two features great, campy costumes too, adding an unexpected layer of fun to this tender storyline.
As You Lay Sleeping is beautifully written, hauntingly played and even comedic at times. This is a show I highly recommend.
- As You Lay Sleeping is playing as part of Fringe Primetime at the Virtual 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival.
- The final live digital performances are on July 29 and 31 at 8pm. The July 29 performance will be followed by a Q&A.
- The show runs for approximately 80 minutes.
- Fringe Primetime tickets are $13 and can be purchased online.
- Fringe Primetime presentations will feature Auto-Transcribed Captioning.
- Content Warning: Recommended for ages 14+.
Photo of Amelia Izmanki provided by the company.