Words only go so far in being able to describe The Gigli Concert. The descriptions and abstracts don’t prepare you for the incredible transformation of character in the piece. As such, descriptions do not do justice to the heart and soul of the play. It really has to be experienced.
First of all, there is Howard Shalwitz. at his physical, twitching, neurotic driven best. Who knew that ten years after its first Woolly production that all of the original actors would still be able to pull it off-there’s Howard in total command for the entire production, with focused, intense energy, mastering all the crouching, bending, kneeling and sudden jumping up from various vulnerable positions. And then of course, there is the remarkable Mitchell Hebert, also at his kaleidoscopic character-bending best– transforming from desperate strong man, to sobbing gooey mess, to tuxedo sporting imperial-making it look so effortless, natural, easy. The story spins on the premise that singing like the Italian tenor Gigli can help in self-discovery, awareness, and full life expression. It’s a tough sell and doesn’t make sense in the abstract, but comes to light in production, in true Woolly fashion.
The play opens depicting Howard’s character JPW King, a Dynamatology psycho-babbling expert (see, you had to be there) living in his cluttered well worn office, stripped down to his underwear, retreating to a corner spot for best reception, compulsively sneaking telephone time calling a lost love, who obviously prefers remaining lost. In bursts Mitch, known only as the “Irish Man,” desperate, demanding, convinced that he could mend his ugly ways if he could only sing like Gigli, not Caruso, but Gigli. The resulting psychological whirlwind pits the two, with nice physical and comic touches by Kimberly Schraf, in a battle of wills and forces-both natural and otherwise— using language, brute strength, sexual tension, persuasion, and of course, outpourings of the emotively expressive music of Gigli to achieve the goal.
The script by Irish dramatist Tom Murphy covers its territory thoroughly, leaving no stone unturned, no strategy unexplored, while the director, Tom Prewitt, also returning from the previous production, keeps the action moving briskly sometimes even at a manic pace. As a result, in this era of incredibly shrinking 90-minute plays, don’t be dismayed by its 2.5+ hours length-it just doesn’t feel like it. The rich language flows with such fluidity and grace, the fun-filled antics keep you alert, the acting is so fierce, and the poignant character transformations are so achingly beautiful, that time truly flies – yes, because you are having that much fun. Such a feat is even more striking considering that everything takes place in a dingy, musty room. Even Shakespeare didn’t try to pull that off.
The setting, lighting and sound design all contribute to the magical transformations, with hushed sounds of night, sleepy dawn of daybreak and tantalizing depictions of the Dublin streets below, along with the skyline and world beyond. In the end, Howard shows us the way – we can decide to remain unmoved, untouched and unchanged, or we can join him in a leap of ecstatic artistry and expression to change our own hearts and lives.