LuminaTO 2009: Lipsynch

By Megan Mooney

Lipsynch 3 (photo by Erick Labbe)

I’ll admit it.  I’m having a bit of a hard time finding the words for this review.  Somehow I feel like just saying “Robert Lepage’s Lipsynch is phenomenal and if you ever get the chance to see it you should go” doesn’t seem to be enough.  But it sums up how I’m feeling.  And it seems so big it’s hard to find succinct words to describe it.

But I’ll try…

So, first lets get the length out of the way…  You will likely have heard by now that this is a 9 hour play.  And it is.  Well, sort of.  It’s a 7 hour play, with 2 hours worth of breaks.  Several 20 minute breaks and one 45 minute ‘dinner break’.  The breaks make the timeline quite manageable.  Although I was thoroughly exhausted at the end, it really didn’t feel like a theatre marathon.

In fact, since the breaks happened every hour or so, it actually felt easier than some shows where they try to cram over an hour and a half into audiences without an intermission.  In fact John, my show-partner for this one, said the show was “9 hours long, but subjectively much shorter than some 50 minute shows I’ve seen in my life.” 

Speaking of show-partners, generally the opinions would be incorporated in this article, but since this is such a big piece, and there is so much to say about it, John’s going to write his own review of the piece.

Basically, the 9 hour tag makes this an incredibly intimidating-sounding experience, even for a hardened theatre-goer like me, but in fact, that part was a breeze.

Now, the show.  I have to say, I feel a bit like this has something for everyone.  I suppose that’s one of the benefits of such a long show.  There’s a bit of opera, dialogue pieces, amazing visuals, innovative staging, traditional staging, playing with vocalizations other than words, easy to follow narrative, hard to follow scenes, non-operatic musical numbers, basically everything except dance, although, some of it felt a bit like a dance performance too.  It’s even multilingual, so it’s like you’ve gone to plays in English, French, Spanish and German.  Don’t worry, everything is surtitled, so you won’t be left behind when the show is in a language you don’t understand.

Since what I aim to do with this site is give you a flavour of the show let me see what I can do in quick point-form.

Chapter 1:
– Opens with something that I think is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen on stage.  Unexpectedly, it’s an airplane that provides the beauty.  This wordless scene plays out to a swelling symphony.  The lighting helps make the image a powerful one, and helps to tell a clear and touching story.

– This is followed up by an evening at the opera, an aria complete with surtitles.  I’ll admit to wondering at this point if this was going to be 9 hours without any dialogue.

– Dialogue is introduced, along with a clever bit of staging, as Ada makes some inquiring phone calls from her Montreal hotel room.  Thankfully it also injects some laughter into the piece, helping those of us in the audience who are still a bit trepidatious about what we’re in for over the next many hours.

– More clever staging ensues to indicate the passing of years.  It also results in more laughter.  I’m starting to feel a bit more comfortable at this point.

– Some establishing scenes between Ada and her son Jeremy, including Jeremy’s rebellious foray into heavy metal (the song, by the way, was actually written by Rick Miller – the stupidly talented actor playing Jeremy).

– Another plane ride, this time seen from the outside, happening in tandem with another aria – a mother and son duet this time.

And that’s all just in the first hour!  I’m not going to outline each chapter, since there are 8 more to go through, but I’ll hit the highlights to try and give you a sense of the piece.

Chapter 2:
– As with all the sections, this one has some traditional characters in dialogue moments.  But this one focuses on the brain, and plays with our perceptions versus the reality of situations.  Some very cool staging provides the majority of explicit playing with perceptions when disparate set pieces become pieces of furniture once projected onto the screen above the stage.

Chapter 3:
– My favourite part about this one was the demonstration of how a film is dubbed into a different language.  Likely not what I was “supposed” to walk away with, but it was pretty bloody interesting to see in process.

Chapter 4:
– My least favourite of the chapters.  This one included a dinner party full of loud people talking over each other in different languages.  John (the aforementioned show-partner) agreed that it was very possibly meant to be annoying/jarring/offputting, but it just didn’t work for me.  There was, of course, other stuff in this chapter, but none of it was particularly dynamic for me, which is ironic, since it focused on the Rick Miller character, and I LOVE Rick Miller.

Chapter 5:
– This one is full of some really great lipsynching.  It starts out with an old woman being interviewed about being a speech therapist.  Then there is some lipsynching that happens for a BBC radio program.  There’s also some heart-wrenching revelations in this one, but there is certainly a “cool-factor” in watching the actors lipsynch to the interviews.

Chapter 6:
– Although this one revolves around someone’s death, it’s also a bit of a slapstick piece.  It even ends with a fart.  The 10 year old in me really enjoyed this.  It was kind of a nice break from the intensity of some of the other scenes.

Chapter 7:
– Fun Scottish accent aside, this bit felt a bit long.  It’s mostly a ‘standard’ kind of theatre, the only quirky bit is the car used in the piece.  It’s a shell that is pushed around the stage by a couple folks in black.

Chapter 8:
– Without a doubt the creepiest part of the show.  Creepier than I’ve seen on stage in a long time.  While still in an institution, Michelle is, for lack of a better word, haunted by two figures.  A priest and a little girl.  Pressed against vaguely translucent backlit material behind her bed.  Once she leaves the institution she’s haunted by them again while at work.  It really did give me chills.  It was also some incredibly powerful staging, giving us the opportunity to watch the scene from the outside of a bookshop, and then again from the inside.  Plus you get to hear Rick Miller rap in French, what more could you want?

Chapter 9:
– Brings the play full-circle by highlighting the character that started it all.  It talks about her being sold into sex-slavery, how she escaped, where Jeremy came from, it basically tied everything up in a neat little bow.  It was interesting to learn about the story, but as a stand-alone piece it wasn’t that interesting.

As a whole piece it’s not perfect, but it’s still pretty great.  Some of the chapters stand alone, I’d be happy just watching them as a piece of theatre on their own.  Some do
n’t.  I think I’d need to see each chapter become a piece that can stand on it’s own for it to come closer to perfect for me. 

But really, who needs perfection?  This was an incredible piece.  It was a great experience, and I don’t think that’s just ‘cause I’m a theatre-geek, I think it would be a great experience for anyone.  And I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for the folks working on the show.  There are only 9 actors playing all the characters in the piece.  9 actors may sound like a big cast, but when you’re looking at something the scope of this, well, it seems a pretty tiny number of people to divide the labour between.

One thing that isn’t about the play, but that I loved a lot and would like to point out is that during the curtain call the stage crew was up there with the actors.  It makes it far more real than just some actors pointing to the booth.  It was nice to see.  And especially appropriate in this piece since the changing of the very nifty sets were such a big piece of the show, the crew were practically actors on their own.

I can’t recommend Lipsynch enough, it really is a theatre-experience of a lifetime.  So, if you ever get a chance to see it, if it’s ever playing near you, leap at that chance.  Don’t be intimidated by the length, it really doesn’t feel that long, and it’s well worth the investment of time.


Photo by Erick Labbe