By Greg Simay
BurbankNBeyond Entertainment Editor
The Colony Theatre’s The Morini Strad gives us an extra helping of onstage excitement this holiday season. You’ll not only see veteran actors at the top of their craft, but also exquisitely rendered violin performances from prodigy GENEVA LEWIS, already amazing at 14.
Emmy Award-winning MARIETTE HARTLEY is Erica Morini, who showed the world of the 30s and 40s that a woman could be a world-class violinist. By the mid-1990s, the aging diva had accidentally damaged her Stradivarius violin, a catastrophe comparable to putting a chip on the Hope Diamond. The versatile DAVID NEVELL is Brian Skarstad, the “invisible” man Erica hopes can restore the precious Stradivarius violin discreetly.
Erica is upper class as well as world famous. Brian is working class as well as obscure. Erica sacrificed a family life to achievement, something other women trailblazers have had to do. Brian has been sacrificing his potential career as a violinmaker (luthier) for the sake of his family’s financial security, choosing instead the safer path of violin restoration.
The violin has a reputation of being a highbrow instrument. Only the children of the very affluent have the luxury of mastering it well enough to soothe the savage Tiger Mom. But the guitar is completely at home in a teenager’s garage or neighborhood bar. And when we hear the off-stage guitar wails from Brian’s teenagers, the play subtly underlines the class divide between Erica and him.
The social distance between them never seems wider than when Erica and David seem to be talking past each other, lost in their own monologues. Erica reminisces to herself about her days in Italy, when the dictator Mussolini was roughing up the great conductor Toscanini. Brian rhapsodizes about the intricacies of making a violin. But under STEPHANIE VLAHOS’ brilliant direction, the monologues interweave like the musical lines of a duet. We begin to see that playwright WILLY HOLTZMAN intends Erica and Brian to become aware of a deeper unity that already exists between them.
“I’m just an artisan, not an artist,” Brian says. But he’s wrong. Think of the things, great and small, that elevate everyday life into art. A beautiful house filled with love and laughter. A ’68 Corvette Stingray taking a curve perfectly. Landing on the moon and returning safely to Earth.
Someone—sometimes a lot of someone’s–had to design the house, car and rocket, and design them well. Someone had to build them, and build them well. And someone had to use them as they were meant to be used, and use them well.
Design, craftsmanship, performance: art’s sacred trinity. And in the ecology of human flourishing, all three are an abiding presence.
We saw the fusion of all three when GENEVA LEWIS performed the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, doing full justice to the composer and the violin’s lutier. In its very title, the Morini Strad reminds us that that art is a community enterprise of excellence.
The Morini Strad reminds us that there’s a difference between owning something and “Owning” it. A collector may own a Stradivarius, but the Stradiavari craftsmen Owned it with the mastery of their craft. Erica Morini Owned it with the mastery of hers. And so the violin is quite properly named the Morini Strad, the outward manifestation of a community of artistic passion and excellence.
And Mariette, David and Geneva Own The Molini Strad. Bravi!
See The Molini Strad at The Colony Theatre this Thursday or Friday at 8 p.m.; this Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; or the final performance this Sunday (Dec. 16) at 2 p.m. The Colony Theatre is at 555 N. Third Street (at Cypress) in Burbank, next to the Burbank Town Center Mall. Tickets range from $20 to $42. Call the Colony Theatre Box Office at (818) 558-7000 ext. 15 or online at www.ColonyTheatre.Org.