Stuart Hughes (left) and Diego Matamoros show great range in The Gigli Concert.
THE GIGLI CONCERT by Tom Murphy (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (50 Tank House). Runs to May 16. $29-$74, rush $23, youth $5. 416-866-8666. See listings. Rating: NNN
It's easy to understand why an actor-based company like Soulpepper would want to tackle Tom Murphy's little-known play The Gigli Concert. The central theme - the power of art to transcend life - is always a crowd-pleaser, and the two lead roles are great showcases for versatile actors, drawing on elements of tragedy, comedy and even some lip-synched opera singing.
Stuart Hughes plays an unnamed Irish building contractor who employs English therapist JPW King (Diego Matamoros) to help him sing like Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli. It's an odd request, but the down-on-his-luck King, who's recovering from a separation by using alcohol and the occasional romp with married Irishwoman Mona (Irene Poole), is intrigued. Inevitably, his client's quest begins affecting his own life.
The pieces of the play take a while to assemble, and over two and a half hours there's not much to look at on Ken MacKenzie's cluttered, realistic set. But director Nancy Palk gets nuanced performances from the two actors, Matamoros moving from quiet despair to manic confidence, while Hughes changes from a closed-off, suspicious control freak to an energized man painfully recalling an abusive history.
Poole, although her part is underdeveloped, adds an earthy feel and sardonic humour to her few moments.
Liberal use of recordings of Gigli's famous arias and scenes adds atmosphere to scene changes. But it's a shame some of the emotion in those songs doesn't make its way into the frequently clunky script, which at times feels like a dramatized Oliver Sacks case study.