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La Musica at Salomee Speelt | Theater review

A divorcing couple’s final encounter gets a moving, dreamlike depiction in Noémi Schlosser’s production of Marguerite Duras’s one-act.
Photograph: No�mi Schlosser John Gray and Elizabeth Laidlaw in La Musica
By Benno Nelson |

For anyone who’s ever been in a breakup, La Musica, with its quiet, measured simmer, may well be the most frustrating 50 minutes imaginable—which is precisely what makes it compelling. Eschewing the histrionics of confrontation and desire, it highlights the behavioral chasm between honest expression and civility, leaving you squirming in your seat.

Marguerite Duras’s 1965 play, in a new translation by Chicago Dramatists resident playwright Alice Austen, depicts the final good-byes of a couple finalizing their divorce after a two-year separation. Their meeting place is the hotel where they lived during the first three months of their marriage, represented here by simple chalk drawings on the floor and walls, which the actors smudge, erase and alter throughout the performance. Though the trick is probably underused, it effectively highlights the extent to which the characters, called Her and Him, have lost touch with their shared history, as well as their struggle to retain control of their memories.

John Gray and Elizabeth Laidlaw give remarkably quiet performances. They spend much of the play in forced isolation, Gray putting a pleasant face on self-destructive instincts to rehash old wounds, while Laidlaw looks hauntingly as though she’s about to cry but desperate to laugh.

The music, performed live by saxophonists Brandon Campbell and Randall Carpenter, could benefit from a punchier structure to contrast with the actors’ dreamy behavior. An 11th-hour confrontation isn’t quite able to ratchet up to the specificity and danger it’s looking for. But the way director Noémi Schlosser turns a kitchen-sink two-hander into a dreamy, lonely reflection on love and loss shouldn’t be ignored.

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