The Gigli Concert – The power and problem of words. (Theatre review)
The Gigli Concert
Darlinghurst Theatre Company
9 April – 4 May
Photos by Wendy McDougall
If waiting to act is the purpose in life for Vladimir and Estragon who observe the world as outsiders waiting for the perfect moment to delve right in, then the act itself is the temporal salvation for JPW King (Patrick Dickson) and his client, The Irishman (Maeliosa Stafford), the act being in this particular case, to sing like the great Beniamino Gigli, an Italian tenor famous in the first half of the twentieth century for the combination of his steel like grip on technique and profound beauty of his voice, while regularly being criticised for beaing overemotional. Gigli represents the perfect moment of expression the ultimate will to act, the combination of sublime beauty, exquisite skill and a fearlessness of disappearing into the maudlin marshes of wrought emotion, a lifetime of energy spent merely to produce a perfect sound. When JPW King receives his client, known only as the Irishman, his visitor requests he use whatever skills he has at his disposal to ensure at the end of his five days of sessions he is able to sing like Gigli.
As director John O’Hare states in his notes in the program, The Gigli Concert contains the seeds of a Faustian deal, some sort of trade-off though it is never clear who is making he deal with whom, nor what they are trading for; but somehow we are all making our own deals for the will to act. King discovers early that his client suffers from a mental illness, but the function of “dynamatology” is powerless to effect a cure, rather can only supply the man with the rules by which he can find conformity, and even in that aim, King is not terribly successful. Still, with the power (or lack of power) of words, the two men will use the talking cure to find their way into each other and surprise themselves with an optimism that belies the circumstances of the deal with the devil we all make when we choose to live. Still, it is the ever-present voice of Gigli, the carefully chosen arias, the instruction of King claiming “You don’t need to know the words; hear the sounds,” that the men will strangely find each other, the words forming a jumbled mass of a bridge of sorts that allows two souls to tumble across the gulping abyss. It is this similar relationship King has with his lover Mona (Kim Lewis) where the spaces around the words form the density that bring the couple together, not the things they say. If the hope for living a life lies in this ephemeral connection between people, then it is our scrambled reaching that remarkably defies obstacles, even as it creates them, and forges bonds where we can’t know the words, only feel the vibration of that connection.
The world of JPW King, which forms the setting of these connections, is a dilapidated one, filled with the grunge and muck too many words and decaying attempts at a real life, folded over themselves, oozing down the walls and caking onto graying bed sheets. King drinks too much, sleeps with a married woman he met in a supermarket on the rebound from a failed love affair that swallowed up all his desperate attempts to create something purely romantic in his sordid small world. He is a dynamatologist, a new age therapist of sorts, and it is never clear if he has latched onto a spiritual get-connected-quick-scheme or not just very good at his job, or a little bit of both, but he quickly finds himself out of his depth when his client comes in to engage his services in finding a way to make him sing like Gigli. Without really knowing what they are doing, why they are doing it or what they are both trapped in, the men stumble through their five day arrangement mostly seeking something firm to grasp in the tossing ephemeral sea that surrounds them.
Patrick Dickson is a lanky and yet perpetually shoulder stooped King. The Gigli Concert is an actors play, its own internal joke on the importance of the act that lies so close to the words that form and don’t form it together. Dickson gives the remarkable impression of a tall/small man, a man who manages to cross the stage and back without you thinking he has moved at all. This performance is perfectly posited against Maeliosa Stafford playing a character who made his money in construction, who appears to be the epitome of solidity and firmness, a man who seems so much larger than he really is. Stafford’s man stands his ground as if he’s taken root while Dickson’s man flits hither and thither, the two actors using their bodies to demonstrate the extreme depth of the gulf between them. When Kim Lewis comes in as Mona (almost all reviews of The Gigli Concert have criticised Tom Murphy for his underwriting Mona) she is physically different again, grounded against the lost and blowy Dickson, but her stability (we find as the play moves on) comes from sadness, an inevitability that we all must come to terms with. That is not to say that Murphy has written a spiritual angel in Mona, nor is that how Lewis plays her, rather she is a dimension of herself, the trite semi-lamentations of an ill-formed relationship passing her lips, even as her actions ground their connection in a kind of truth. Mona speaks the reverse of what is so, and uses the words to build the connections King mistakes for the physical. Like so many men, he knows nothing of this until she is gone.
The Gigli Concert is a masterpiece and considered Tom Murphy’s greatest play. I saw it after a particularly difficult day at work; I turned up very slightly after it started, having raced through a thunderstorm without an umbrella to get there. I was tired, my head throbbed with a stress headache and I was so wet I didn’t properly dry till I got home all those hours later, and still the Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Production of The Gigli Concert gripped me in its arms so that I was shocked when the three hours had passed me by. I cried at the tumultuous beauty of its final scenes and sank, thrilled into its enormity. This is a beautiful production of an important play set in a bright new beautiful Sydney theatre. Try not to miss it.