The wrenching ache of a voice crying out in pain. The electric tremolo of a voice in need, and the fear it elicits in the listener. The way our heartbeat actually slows when an affecting song gets inside of us. The quiet and often unheard melodies of our everyday interactions. This is the stuff of Robert Lepage
's new work, Lipsynch
, now running at BAM as part of the Next Wave Festival
. And though the piece clocks in at a bit over nine hours (including intervals and a dinner break if you see the marathon performance), for those eager to see a rare and ambitious work that intelligently and at times beautifully explores the many ways in which we use and make sense of the human voice, I would say it's worth the time.
So much of Robert Lepage
's work demands that the audience listen to sound instead of simply listening for words. A Québécois artist, Lepage's work has always dealt in multicultural and multinational characters and ideas. The kind of code-switching that is second nature to bilingual people is second nature to every play of Lepage's that I have seen. In his career-making production of The Dragons' Trilogy
in the mid-1980s, he and the company performed two-thirds of the piece in French in London, without subtitles or translation.
The actors in Lipsynch
speak in at least five different languages that I could count–Polish, English, French, German, and Spanish, not to mention a heavy Scottish brogue that many in the audience struggled to understand. Most of this work is subtitled, but not every moment. Those in the audience who don't speak every language being spoken on stage are forced to listen to the changing tempo and musicality of the speech in order to glean some meaning. It's a disorienting experience at first, but when you surrender to your own ignorance, there's a great deal to be discovered. A number of people leave feeling that they understood most of what was being communicated even if they couldn't always understand what was being said.
Lepage opens Lipsynch
's first act with the character of Ada (Rebecca Blankenship) singing from Henryk Górecki
’s Symphony No. 3, known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
. A symphony in three movements for orchestra and solo soprano (in Polish, incidentally), the overarching theme of the piece focuses on the separation of a child and a parent. Lepage uses this same theme as the foundation of his theatrical composition in nine acts.
Ada is a world-traveling opera singer on a flight to Montreal from Europe. While walking down the aisle of the plane she discovers that a young mother holding an infant has died. Over the course of the first act Ada successfully pursues information about the orphaned child, in the end adopting the boy who grows into one of the main characters in the show. Various people that Ada and her son Jeremy (Rick Miller) encounter in their lives become the parallel plots that orbit the central story of an adoptive mother trying to guide her son through his life and the son's search for the life and voice of his birth mother.