Text of Broadcast reviews of: THE GIGLI CONCERT and TRUDEAU AND THE FLQ

by Lynn on April 2, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast Friday, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 fm The Gigli Concert at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until  May 16 and Trudeau and the FLQ at the Tank House of the Young Centre for the Performing Arts for the month of April and perhaps longer.

The guest host was Phil Taylor.


Good Friday morning, it’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin our Theatre Critic and Passionate Playgoer.

So what do you have for us today.


I have two under the umbrella of Soulpepper Theatre Company and both are at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

First The Gigli Concert by Irish playwright Tom Murphy performed by the Soulpepper Theatre Company, about a man who wants to sing like the great Italian tenor, Beniamino Gigli—and do it in six days.

And then we have Trudeau and the FLQ written and directed by Michael Hollingsworth and produced by VideoCabaret, and programmed as part of the Soulpepper season.


Let’s start with The Gigli  Concert. How does the man expect to sing like Gigli in six days


First a bit of information on Tom Murphy, the playwright. Irish playwright Tom Murphy burst onto the theatre scene with his first play, A Whistle in the Dark. He was 25 when he wrote it. It’s a play full of anger, frustration, displacement, loneliness and intense emotion. Full of xenophobia yet the urge to leave the country. The play is so emotionally forceful that it takes you by the throat and doesn’t let you go until the last gripping moment.

What followed after this stunning debut was play after gripping play that detailed the Irish landscape, it’s history (Famine); coming home from abroad, defeated (Conversations on a Homecoming); a woman at three stages of her life (Alice Trilogy). His beat is Ireland, its people, history, sense of loss and longing.

But in 1975 Murphy had a crisis of faith in theatre and his work it seems when one of his plays met with scathing reviews and audience opposition for it’s anti-Catholic stance. Murphy left the theatre for several years to work as a farmer.

In 1983 he came back with The Gigli Concert. It’s unlike his other plays in that it is almost existential in its sweep;  philosophical in it’s focus and intellectual in its story-telling.


So what is the story?


A successful and mysterious businessman called Irish Man in the program, visits a self-styled Dynamatologist named  JPW King to help him with his desire to sing like the opera singer Beniamino Gigli.

Dynamatology is a science invented by Tom Murphy that is a kind of psychoanalysis but different. In six hour long sessions King hopes to delve into the Irish Man’s psyche to find out his problems after which he will be able to sing like Gigli, one hopes. King is not a vocal coach.

What follows is the Irish Man revealing his fragile state of mind; his explosive anger and his deep love of the music of Gigli. We also realize that King is a charlatan who asks a lot of questions to get to the root of a person’s problems. The Irishman brings a record player and a record of Gigli to his sessions so that King can hear for himself  how wonderful Gigli is.


Do you see the same aspects of Murphy’s other plays in The Gigli Concert?


I see it a bit in King. He is a typical Murphy character. King certainly has his issues. He was in a relationship and that’s failed. He lives in his office and drinks heavily. He does not seem to have any clients. So that despair but tenacity to continue is inherent in a Murphy character.  But I don’t see the raging anger and frustration of characters facing a world they think is against them.

The Irish Man certainly has his issues with anger and frustration but we hear about it from him in relation to his family and don’t actually see it in his dealings with King.

In spite of Murphy’s beautiful use of language, the play is problematic. It’s talky and laden with philosophical musings which bog down the proceedings. It’s oddly structured you think it ends a few times before it does.

There is a character of Mona who is married, but who is sleeping with King—I won’t call it an affair. The relationship is tenuous for Act I, I thought. Why is she there….it comes clear sort of in Act II. The production deals with these difficulties head on for the most part.


How so?


I say ‘for the most part’ because the set is a problem. It’s designed by Ken MacKenzie. It’s of King’s office, a perfectly grungy looking place with shabby furniture as would befit an unsuccessful man. But for some reason MacKenzie decided to raise the stage from its regular position. This means that the people in the first five rows have to crane their necks back to see up and over onto the stage—and seeing at the back of it is impossible. Mr. MacKenzie, you didn’t check what the folks in the first five rows had to contend with—never raise the stage again, please.   

The production of The Gigli Concert is directed with care and sensitivity by Nancy Palk. She does good work in keeping the pace going.

The cast is terrific. When you least expect it they illuminate moments of stunning beauty and revelation. As the Irish Man, Stuart Hughes is dapper, matter of fact and formidable. When he listens to an aria sung by Gigli it’s a combination of little moments of finding beauty in different ways. These moments build until Hughes face creases with emotion and he shudders with it. That reaction stunned me.

As King, Diego Matamoros has that hunch-body, bewildered look of a man trying to figure out what happened to him. Initially he listens to Gigli without interest, but then realizes the beauty in the music and the singing. That’s stunning too.

And as Mona, Irene Poole carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. She loves King. He has a hard time returning the affection.

Do you do a play of a celebrated playwright if it’s not up to his standard—and by the way The Gigli Concert is considered a masterpiece of Murphy’s work? Yes, I think you do. You see how it fits or not into his body of work.  

I think this production does wonders with this problematic play.


And now to Trudeau and the FLQ by VideoCabaret


Yes created by VideoCabaret at part of their huge series of play covering the history of Canada called “The History of the Village of the Small Huts.” Since 2000 the first 13 plays of the series have been reworked.

They are created for an audience that grew up on Rock and Roll and Television. The action takes place in a black box structure. Scenes are very short at in television with many blackouts and cheesy music underscoring the scenes.

The plays are biting satires of the folly and mendacity of Canadian politics—the backroom back stabbings, the manipulations of politicians for power and position. All created by Michael Hollingsworth who has a sharp eye for the stupidity and meanness that made the country.


What’s the story of Trudeau and the FLQ?


In Trudeau and the FLQ we see the stylish-almost dandyish university philosophy professor named Pierre Elliot Trudeau teaching Plato to bored students and how he pricks their apathy with his wit and calm putdowns. The play covers his rise to power. How he hates nationalism but believes in a total Canada. How he views Quebec and its rabble rousing groups who want to separate. One small group is the FLQ made up of young people who loath Canada and think of themselves as only Quebecers.

The group blew up mail boxes, buildings, kidnapped James Cross, a diplomat and killed Pierre Laporte, and how Trudeau dealt with it—he called out the army and implemented the war measures act.


The style of VideoCabaret is very distinct isn’t it?


Like nothing else. The costumes and props are exaggerated. The very essence of a moment is captured in short. Really condensed scenes so you get the full meaning of a scene instantly. It’s totally artificial in its presentation and totally engaging as a piece of theatre and history.

All the actors play multiple roles and are wonderful. But Mac Fyfe as Trudeau is a standout…the delivery is quiet and sing-songy like Trudeau’s voice; the confidence of the man and the charm. Nothing seemed to scare him or overwhelm him. I think Mac Fyfe is a rock-star as Trudeau.

VideoCabaret presents this daunting subject—the history of Canada—in plays that are hilarious, cutting, bracing and engaging. Trudeau and the FLQ has some very sobering moments in it which Hollingsworth lightens with humour without loosing the drama of it.

It’s a perfect way of getting good theatre and a history lesson too.


Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com.

Twitter @slotkinletter.

The Gigli Concert plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until May 16.


Trudeau and the FLQ plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts through April.



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