LUMINATO presents Robert Lepage’s LIPSYNCH reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Sunday, June 7, 2009, Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto.

“Ain’t that a kick in the head!” I said to myself after witnessing the first act of Robert Lepage’s mindblowing epic Lipsynch.

Co-commissioned by Luminato, Lepage’s multimedia/polygenric, theatrical-musical multilingual head-kicking moral entertainment currently touring world capitols blazed through the 9 hours of its Canadian debut at the Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto last night.

The audience kept up a high frequency buzz during the four intermissions and dinner break, ending the evening shouting, clapping, and stamping their joy through four curtain calls.

Think “Lady Madonna.” In front of a red curtained set, the sad music of Gorecki’s Third Symphony plays while a darkened monumental female figure sings a hymn to her child.

The curtains part to reveal the interior of an aircraft flying from Frankfurt to Montreal. While the flight attendant dispenses drinks, a baby cries in the lap of a teenaged female who never moves, because she is dead. Another passenger, an operatic contralto played by Rebecca Blankenship (who sang the opening Gorecki aria), cradles the baby until the flight lands.

As the story progresses through an awe-inspiring series of tableaux, the ‘opera singer’ finds the baby, adopts him, names him Jeremy, raises him to young manhood, and endures his cruel rejection of her.

Jeremy’s search for the truth about his ‘birth’ mother, the fictional film version of that truth we see him making, his marriage to the film star who resembles his birth mother, and the birth of their child, lead Jeremy (played by Rick Miller) back to his adoptive mother, Ada.

Ada then gives Jeremy a documentary film in which Lupe, his Nicaraguan teenaged mother (played by Nuria Garcia) is given a voice and tells the story (of her sexual enslavement arranged by her uncle and a German pimp) to the French Canadian indie lesbian documentary film-maker who put her on the plane. This is a telling of “Lady Madonna” redeemed from chaos by the love given to the child of her misfortune.

My original “Ain’t that a kick in the head!” feeling came from the awesome virtuosity of the production. Actors switch fluidly from flawless English to German to Spanish and French (accented a la France et Québec). Subtitles appear or not, as needed. All sorts of cool digital enhancements abound.

The sets and scene-changes are unimaginable until you witness them and are uplifted by the imagination that created them. A plane becomes a train becomes a subway car that you step out of into a dining room. Previously invisible stage-hands appear to intrude on one scene then come into the open as the next set morphs into the setup of a movie set where they belong and are managed by a miked stage manager with a Brit accent.

This team’s actors can deliver stunning vocal peformances—Frédéricke Bédard’s free jazz “April in Paris”, Rick Miller’s screaming version of Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast.” Even Sarah Kemp’s low key but flawless lipsynch of “Do You Know the Way to San José?” opens our understanding of how artspeech in the mouth of an ‘ordinary’ person can raise a moment of life closer to an ideal state.

Lipsynch is from a mind in which all boundaries are defining but also are endowed with transparency, flexibility, permeability. It is a questioning, or doubting mind that does not need to be stuck in any category in order to feel real.  Tragic scenes are constructed to crack open into hysterical laughter that engulfs actors and audience alike. The schizoid background buzz of mental patient Michelle’s mind transforms into a voice of sanity that contains affirmative poetry uplifting herself, the other characters in her bookstore, and the audience that is moved to applaud ‘performances’ in the story.

The energy of the laughter released by the audience in this production purges the sadness and bitterness out of the dark truths revealed and leaves us feeling free to enjoy the display of creative talent that is Lipsynch.

And, not all the truths are dark. In the bigger picture, which this 9 hour experience provides, our separate lives are intertwined, are familiar, are part of a family. There are no foreigners, no foreign languages in the world of Lipsynch.

On this stage, the familiar scenes of our life, through repetition, become not boring but ritualized, and therefore sacred. Especially the sounds we make in our speech and our songs connect us through love, and are also sacred. Our lost ancestral voices are present in our own voices.

In a way, everything we say to each other is just us lipsynching the past we loved and thought we lost. Not to worry.

The production continues June 9-11, 13 & 14. Details here.

Comments are closed.