The Gigli Concert

Thomas Murphy, proclaimed as one of Ireland's two greatest living playwrights along with Brian Friel, writes plays that purport to give an impressionistic, rather than literal, representation of life. And in "The Gigli Concert," his impressions are overly stated to the point of exhaustion and tedium. Originally produced in 1982 in Dublin, this three-character play is a perplexing amalgam of new-age quackery, booze, sex and male-bonding, relentlessly and redundantly spewed forth by an excellent ensemble under the insightful direction of Allan Miller. An excellent production, however, cannot compensate for the playwright's lack of confidence in an audience to "get" his meaning.

With:
Robert Thaler (JPW King), Greg Mullavey (Irish Man), Lisa Robins (Mona)

The action centers in the squalid Dublin office and living quarters of Englishman JPW King (Robert Thaler), practitioner of a new-age brand of psychology known as Dynamatology. A seedy refuse of upper-class upbringing and lower-class tastes, King cannot handle his own downtrodden life, let alone the real problems of others. Since no one ever demands his professional services, he is free to bathe himself in vodka while indulging in bittersweet romantic telephone liaisons with a skittish married woman, compensated by rousing sexual encounters with good-hearted Mona (Lisa Robins), a sex-starved housewife who will take her men any way she can find them.

Into King’s subterranean existence barges rough-talking but wealthy Irish Man (Greg Mullavey), who refuses to give his name. Suffering from severe depression, Irish Man is willing to pay whatever it takes to realize his passion: to be able to sing like the legendary Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957). Initially casting his jaundiced eye on the crazed Irish Man as a meal ticket, King eventually begins to evolve out of his own debilitating insecurity to try to help his one and only client achieve his goal.

Director Miller guides his cast through every nuance and meaning of Murphy’s dialogue as King and Irish Man wend their way into and through each other’s lives, bonding in a manner that proves to be a cathartic evolution for both men. It is too bad Miller could not have guided the playwright through some judicious editing of his text to not dilute the power of his premise. Ultimately, the two men talk themselves beyond the true impact of their relationship, leaving the audience to suffer through a series of limp denouements.

This is no fault of the cast. Mullavey offers a powerfully flinty presence as the Irish laborer-turned-millionaire accustomed to getting his own way. It is a truly rewarding theatrical experience to watch his character slowly soften to, and eventually embrace, his pitifully unaccomplished therapist. Despite a noticeable self-conscious affection for the sound of his own voice, Thaler’s King marvelously casts himself on every inflection of Irish Man’s demeanor to maneuver his meager resources to place himself at best advantage. And despite her wavering Irish accent, Robins’ Mona strikes an intriguing balance between ravenous sexuality and forlorn melancholy.

The set and lighting designs of Victoria Profitt and Patrick Ryan, respectively, perfectly capture the subhuman squalor that JPW King calls home. The costuming of Anna M. Wyckoff perfectly sets off the personality of each character.

The Gigli Concert

Odyssey Theatre; 99 seats; $22.50 top; Opened July 26

Production: Odyssey Theatre Ensemble presents "The Gigli Concert," a play in two acts by Thomas Murphy, directed by Allan Miller. Producers are Ron Sossi and Beth Hogan. Set design, Victoria Profitt

Creative: lighting design, Patrick Ryan; costume design, Anna M. Wyckoff. Opened July 26, reviewed July 27; runs until Aug. 31. Running time: two hours, 20 minutes.

Cast: Robert Thaler (JPW King), Greg Mullavey (Irish Man), Lisa Robins (Mona)

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