59E59. By Willy Holtzman. Dir. Casey Childs. With Michael Laurence, Mary Beth Peil, Hanah Stuart. 1hr 40 mins. No intermission.
We know “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” but that’s no excuse for The Morini Strad, Willy Holtzman’s lightweight two-hander about old violins and the people who love them. Erica Morini (Piel) is a nonagenarian European virtuoso, now widowed and relegated to coaching “conservatory brats” from her Fifth Avenue apartment. All that remains from her glory days is her rare Stradivarius (cool classicists call them “Strads,” apparently), which is badly in need of repair. Enter Brian (Laurence), a rugged young American who restores such relics for a living. At first, the crusty diva intimidates the craftsman with haughtiness and name-dropping (Toscanini! Bernstein!), but ultimately she reveals herself to be a sweet old thing who just gave up so much of her life for her art that she doesn’t have much else left. And, yes, she may just end up teaching better life lessons than any musical instruction she ever gave.
Managing to be both turgid and trivial, the play is basically Tuesdays with Morrie for the WQXR crowd. We get many bland, middlebrow pronouncements on art, growing old and following your dreams; but nothing much changes in the course of an endless 100 minutes to get you invested in what happens to Brian, Erica or the antique piece of wood. Casey Childs directs at a largo tempo, leaving his usually capable actors stranded. Thankfully Hanah Stuart (a real-life concert violinist) drifts through occasionally with some soaring string playing to remind us why some songs are better without words.—Garrett Eisler