Darlinghurst Theatre Company and O'Punksky's Theatre present THE GIGLI CONCERT by Tom Murphy, at the Eternity Playhouse.
THE GIGLI CONCERT is an Irish play by Tom Murphy (not Tommy Murphy, the Australian writer - he, hopefully is working on a new original play, it has been a while!). THE GIGLI CONCERT was first presented at the Abbey Theatre in 1983 and was revised and presented again, there, in 1991. O'Punksky's Theatre Company have presented it, now, four times. The leading male Actors, Patrick Dickson and Maeliosa Stafford, and the Director, John O'Hare have always been part of the team. Perhaps, I think, Kim Lewis has also played in one of the productions of this play.
One of the greatest Irish plays of the century - Irish Times
Murphy's words waltz through the auditorium in musical waves ...a fabulous piece - Irish Press
The play is a mighty entertainment ... It is a flamboyant all-enveloping swirling cloak of a play rather than a made-to-measure strait-jacket - Sunday Independent.
This is a wonderful, wonderful play, the jewel in Murphy's career to date, the like of which one is rarely privileged to see - Sunday Business Post.O'Punksky's Theatre Company and this dedicated crew of artists have a similar identification and passion for Mr Murphy's play. I had never seen the play before, and I read it, recently, to familiarise myself for this performance and, frankly, I was bewildered as to what it was about. What was it saying? Does it mean anything? What is it about this play that fascinates the O'Punksky's Theatre Company, that causes them to revive it so many times? I hoped the performance would enlighten me. After seeing the production, some eight scenes long, and taking just over three hours to tell on the stage (with an interval), I was still just as baffled as when I had read it. Nothing new was illuminated by the performance. I was still in the darkness of frustrating incomprehension.
JPW King (Patrick Dickson) is a quack psychologist - a DYNAMATOLGIST - an Englishman, who helps people reach their potential for greatness. He has very few clients and is out of sorts and on his beam-ends. One day an Irish Man (Maeliosa Stafford) arrives needing his help - an Irish millionaire who wants to sing like the famous Italian tenor, Beniamino Gigli. In the tradition of popular Irish theatre personas, these two men are alcoholics (in this case, vodka, whiskey), and have problems in sustaining relationships and have sexual 'hang-ups' with their wives. Mr King is having an on-going sexual liaison with a married woman, Mona (Kim Lewis), on a convertible sofa-bed in his office/digs, between unsettling telephone conversations with his wife, and visits from the Gigli would-be.
In the literary heritage of Irish writings, the pursuit of understanding 'what life is all about'- the great existentialist obsessions of say James Joyce and Samuel Beckett - we come to observe, in the course of the treatment given by Mr King to the Irish Man, his theories around that question, amidst lengthy interruptions/interludes of recorded Gigli - arias, duos, trios and operatic choruses. In fact, the music is given such prominence in the exposition of the play, dictated by the writer, that it becomes a kind of character in its own right - that the lyrics are in Italian, does not necessarily assist to elucidate their action in the play, and, if as Mr O'Hare suggests, the spiritual realm is the desired affect of the music choices, a better Sound Design for aural impact, was needed.
Mr Dickson gives a graphically articulated meta-theatrical performance, using all his skills, as JPW King and, although, a little grotesque in scale to begin with, gradually, because of its passionate consistency, becomes a mesmerising attraction. It may be scaled to such a degree of expression, to unconsciously (consciously?) compensate for the work of Mr Stafford. For Mr Dickson's is a performance that is diametrically opposite in style to the intense internalised 'stewing' of Mr Stafford as the client, the Irish Man - where much seems to be happening, but what exactly, and why, is not communicated with any clarity. Mr Stafford appears to know what this character is 'stewing' and comprehends the dramaturgical function of him but does not assist us, at all, with communicative clues. This puzzling stylistic opposition in the performance styles of the two leading men, produces a dis-connect between the two actors/characters, that I could only surmise, since they have played these roles together before, that they, and Mr O'Hare, the Director, were making a deliberate theatrical choice for our perception. I was, however, discombobulated by the offered work - I was completely puzzled, as have been several of my friends who have seen this production, at a later time.
In contrast, the scenes between Mr Dickson and Ms Lewis have a communicated reality and journey, their interaction developing perceptible narrative and revelation of character. These scenes are, indeed, a welcome respite to the experiencing of the rest of the play and production choices - there is a recognisable human dilemma going-on in these scenes. Mr Dickson and a moving Ms Lewis have a relationship and clear narrative, which can be read. A pity the scenes are so relatively short, then.
In the program notes there is a suggestion that there is a Faustian pact in THE GIGLI CONCERT - Ah-ha! Is it, then, that the Irish Man (with his red-lined overcoat) is Mephistopheles? And Mona is Marguerite, who in the embrace of her death from cancer, releases King as Faust into the realm of a redeemed life, who after an attempt at suicide, in an drug-induced hallucinogenic state, manages, to do the humanly impossible, and sings like Gigli? - a miracle = THE GIGLI CONCERT!
If that is so, the problem with this production lies with Mr Stafford who is playing the metaphor of The Irish Man as Mephistopheles, and not a clear enough human being, an Irish Man with a problem that he needs cured. He is playing a kind of 'symbolist' interpretation of the Irish Man (think, Maeterlinck), who in style is forcing the operatic/pantomimic gestures that Mr Dickson has had to adopt, whilst Ms Lewis attempts to ground the play in a realistic world. That realist world was present in the Set Design offers of Gordon Burns and the costume Design of Alison Bradshaw. Mr O'Hare seems to have lost control, or perspective, on this play production's clarities.
If my 'academic' surmise is so, as to the Faustian metaphor of Mr Murphy's play, it was never apparent in the theatrical unravelling action of this production. I needed to buy a program and to read of those references, and then, by-the-by, extrapolate that information for myself. My friends who saw it at another performance did not purchase a program, did not have my later advantage, and so were enormously frustrated and bored - in fact they left at the interval - three hours of puzzlement is a long time to endure, under those 'lost' circumstances.
THE SEAFARER, the last production presented by O'Punksky's Theatre Company in 2012, was so much more satisfying. This fourth re-visitaion to Tom Murphy's THE GIGLI CONCERT, by O'Punksky's Theatre Company, seems to me, one to many, and that it has lost its clarities, in this production, whatever the passionate beliefs of the artists re-creating the play for us.
How about a Brian Friel, its been too long without him:
1. PHILADELPHIA, HERE I COME! (1964)
2. LOVERS: WINNERS AND LOSERS. (1967)
3. ARISTOCRATS. (1979)
4. TRANSLATIONS. (1980).
5. DANCING AT LUGHNASA. (1990))