Lipsynch – the 9-hour marathon of Robert Lepage


The Festival de Otoño brings the European premiere of the “Marathon”-performance Lipsynch, the much anticipated latest ensemble work by Robert Lepage, to Madrid, following the towering achievements of The Andersen Project (2006) and The Dragons’ Trilogy (2005). You need a lot of energy and will to attend this amazing event, and it is worth this experience every single minute.

Lipsynch is an epic nine-hour performance which spans 70 years and explores the voice as a compelling metaphor for human expression and interaction. It conjures up a hugely ambitious panorama that links nine lives through many decades, spinning stories that often juxtapose tragedy with slapstick. The play journeys between war-torn Vienna, pre-revolutionary Nicaragua and contemporary London and encounters people who have lost the power of speech and those for whom it is their only lifeline. From the primal sounds of a baby’s cry to the sophistication of an operatic aria, Lipsynch tracks a cluster of interwoven destinies where each voice searches for its own identity, from the precision of the dubbing studio to the world of vocal forensics in a criminal investigation.

The story starts on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Montreal during which a Nicaraguan prostitute named Lupe dies, leaving behind a baby boy who is subsequently taken up and adopted by the opera singer, Ada (played by the opera singer Rebecca Blankenship), herself an orphan. Ada, in turn, ends up in a difficult relationship with the same German border guard, Thomas (Hans Piesbergen), a neurologist, who has helped her to find the child. It’s Ada’s good fortune to come across a functionary who is also a real fan of opera.

Jeremy (Rick Miller), the boy, grows up and moves to San Francisco to study film, the story proceeding from there to take us on to the fractious set of his first movie, an Oedipal exercise in self-reckoning whose fiery if neurotic leading lady becomes the fledgling director’s lover. That occasion is preceded by a celebratory Los Angeles dinner gone awry that constitutes one of the funnier passages of a play that never succumbs to the self-importance often attached to Event Theater (and that musical snatches from the Polish composer Henryk Gorecki might suggest). If anything, a later sequence involving a burdensome, flatulent corpse is pretty silly; Joe Orton got there better, and faster, nearly a half-century ago. What’s on evidence throughout is Lepage’s insistence on the playfulness inherent in the word “play,” which is why his productions tend to walk an intriguing tightrope between wounding seriousness and abundant wit.

He’s interested, too, in ripple effects – the ways in which people collide both with one another and with history. Just when you think you’ve seen the last of the tremor-ridden doctor that Ada’s lover eventually becomes, Thomas turns up by the side of Marie (Frederike Bedard), a jazz singer in recovery from a brain tumor whose life is in every way informed by her art: singing “April in Paris” at a late-night club in London’s Soho, she offers up a familiar jazz standard as an extended howl of pain. A later section introduces us to Marie’s bookish, mentally ill sister, Michelle (Lise Castonguay), whom we encounter one snowy Quebec winter, the gathering flakes creating a visual shimmer strangely absent from the most technically laborious of the various Lepage shows I have seen over the years. (Lepage turns this clunkiness to good advantage during Jeremy’s filmmaking passages)

Robert Lepage is a director, artist, playwright, actor and film director. He founded Ex Machina in 1994. Theatre works include The Far Side of the Moon (2000), Seven Streams of the River Ota (1994), Needles and Opium (1991) and Tectonic Plates (1988). Lepage’s production of The Rake’s Progress by Igor Stravinsky (which premiered at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels in April 2007) is from 11 – 28 January 2009 at the Teatro Real in Madrid.

Lipsynch is performed in French, German, Spanish and English, with English subtitles and can be seen in Madrid until the 2 November before moving to French Chalôns-en-Champagne on 15 and 16 November and to Le Havre from 25 – 29 November.

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