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Paulanne Simmons

“The Morini Strad” Delights the Ear and Touches the Heart

THE MORINI STRAD -- Michael Laurence and Mary Beth Peil in The Morini Strad at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

“The Morini Strad”
Directed by Casey Childs
Primary Stages
59E59 Theatres
59 East 59 Street, between Park and Madison
Opened April 3, 2012
Tues. thru Thurs. at 7pm, Fri. at 8pm, and Sat. at 2pm & 8pm, Sun. matinee at 3pm
Tickets: $65 212-279-4200
Closes: April 28, 2012
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 19, 2012

Child violin prodigy Erica Morini and her prized Stradivarius that went missing after her death may be forgotten by most of the public, but her story lives again brilliantly at Primary Stages, where director Casey Childs brings Willy Holtzman’s “The Morini Strad” to life.

The play features the impressive Mary Beth Peil as Erica, the aged violinist who hires Brian (the formidable Michael Laurence), to repair her precious violin, which has been damaged in a way she is not eager to disclose. The dedication they have to their craft is revealed in separate monologues at the beginning of the play.

However, despite their mutual love for the instrument, Erica and Brian have a few fundamental differences. Brian has had to make compromises in order to support his wife and children. Erica, who had an indulgent and loving father and husband, has been able to remain true to her art. She demands the same of Brian, who is being tempted into a lucrative but non-creative job working for a well-known violin restorer.

What’s more, Erica is a crusty old lady who insists on being treated like the prima dona she once was. After all, she was once given a silk scarf by Arturo Toscanini and was on a first-name basis with Leonard Bernstein.

Erica does not hesitate to speak her mind, even when her words sting. But over time she develops a real affection for Brian and asks him to sell the violin for her. She only asks that he sell the instrument to the right kind of person, which will result in a substantial commission that will allow Brian to realize many of his dreams. This results in the only major conflict in the play when Brian and Erica cannot agree on who this right person should be.

The several flashbacks to Erica’s concerts when she was a child are enhanced by the violin playing of Hannah Stuart, a promising Juilliard graduate. While Neil Patel’s set (complete with projections of Central Park) and Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting help make seamless shifts from past to present and from Erica’s Fifth Avenue apartment to Brian’s more humble abode.

The beautiful lyricism of Holtzman’s dialogue is movingly conveyed through Peil and Laurence’s sensitive portrayals. Although younger man/older woman situations are not exactly rare in the theater, the music that runs through this play, in both language in melody, makes it special.

“The Morini Strad” is a genteel and gentle work that takes us to a time and place where art and money may collide, but art triumphs.

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