Richard Armstrong and Fides Krucker hit some incredible notes.
JULIE SITS WAITING by Louis Dufort and Tom Walmsley (Good Hair Day/Theatre Centre). At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). To Sunday (September 23). Pwyc-$40. 416-504-7529. See listing. Rating: NNNN
This modern electroacoustic opera brings together two unique voices in Canadian theatre: veteran mezzo Fides Krucker, known for her fearless, genre-bending vocal acrobatics, and playwright Tom Walmsley, a long-time purveyor of bleak urban horrors depicted with gritty, unflinching realism.
Walmsley's debut libretto tells the kind of story you might expect: in a seedy corner of the city, an adulterous encounter between desperate 50-somethings Julie (Krucker) and Mick (Richard Armstrong) quickly leads to emotional hell.
Krucker's and Armstrong's lofty, tortured-soul vocalizations - which regularly feature otherworldly left turns marked by sudden octave jumps, little shrieks, deep echoes and guttural sounds - mesh surprisingly well with Walmsley's stark, street-level snapshot of two very real people faced with real-life problems. This contrast of epic and everyday is central but subtle, a nice balance achieved by co-directors Heidi Strauss and Alex Fallis.
Montreal modernist composer Louis Dufort's music, with its dark, droning horns, and sharp, ominous strings, contributes an air of gloom and gravitas as the couple's affair threatens to spiral out of control.
Set designer Teresa Przybylski suspends large splinters of plastic in the air above the stage, giving the impression that an explosion has been caught in freeze-frame - an apt metaphor given the emotional fireworks onstage. Arty CGI projections by Jeremy Mimnagh are of the trippy screen-saver variety, but gel nicely with Przybylski's set-up and fill in regular breaks in the action with mesmerizing visuals.
Krucker's ear-twisting style is innovative, fiercely emotive and intriguing, but it is also a challenging listen, and as such it has the potential for overdose. This is wisely avoided by the efficient 67-minute run time.