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Off Broadway

He Says: Aisle Say on the Square: When the Strings are in Tune

He Says: Aisle Say on the Square: When the Strings are in Tune
Peter Bradbury

Peter Bradbury – Photo by Carol Rosegg

Every so often, there appears what I call a “paperback play.” What I mean by that, is play that, whether or not the author has some deeper thematic purpose in mind,  is really all about story,  and is told in such a way that you want to keep the metaphorical pages turning, as you would the real pages of a great beach read. Other People’s Money was such a play;  so was a few good men; so are most of the plays  buy Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham.

Kevin Isola

Kevin Isola Photo by Carol Rosegg

Such is The Violin by Dan McCormick. Taking place on a cold winter’s night in the East Village of Manhattan, in an avenue A tailor shop, it’s about what happens in the evening aftermath of mentally challenged Terry (Kevin Isola) having left a violin that he found in the back of his cab, with shop owner Gio (Robert LuPone), who has long been the spiritual adoptive father to him and his small time criminally-inclined older brother Bobby (Peter Bradbury). As it turns out, this violin is no casual fiddle; and despite Gio’s adjurations that the brothers need to get their act together, employment-wise and morally, it could revive a lot of dead, and frankly impossible dreams. And perhaps not only for the brothers.

Robert Lupone

Robert Lupone – photo by Carol Rosegg

Though the thumbnail description makes The Violin seen to bear an ostensible resemblance to David Mamet’s American Buffalo, the Mamet play is a more casual character study from the period before he had his own self-described epiphany about the value of plot.  Whereas by contrast you get the sense that McCormick has started a story mechanism going with the first lines of dialogue. (“Ya know this city’s so fucked sometimes. Last night as I’m walking over here, I tripped over this.”  I won’t tell you what “this” is, but it figures into the tale.)

What else gets kicked into gear from the moment the play opens,  is the verisimilitude of smart,  realistic portrayals on the part of the acting trio. There’s a New York authenticity to everything they do, under the clean yet unobtrusive direction of Josepeh Discher, and McCormick’s dialogue has an agreeable snap that’s very friendly on the theatre-going ear.  And the design team of five has provided a richness of detail for everything to live on and in.
Caveats? A few. The play is overwritten by at least 15 minutes of material that can be lost without sacrifice to character or story; and for anyone with practiced exposure to the configurations that can be presented with three characters under intense pressure, it’s not hard to spot the tells  of eventual conclusion being prepared for (which would be less in evidence if the play were tighter).
Then again, this staging at 59E59 is the play’s world premiere and the play is strong enough that the director and author,  if they’re as smart as they seem to be,  can use this engagement to work out the kinks for future productions. When a play opens to the public in New York City,  in a major venue, the ”permission” to keep improving isn’t always so readily attainable, and I hope they hug it while they have it.  The Violin deserves to, ahem, keep playing for a while.

Off Broadway

David Spencer is an award-winning composer-lyricist, lyricist-librettist, author and musical theatre teacher. He has written music and lyrics for the Richard Rodgers Development Award-winning musical The Fabulist, which also contributed to his winning a Kleban lyrics award and several Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation grants. He is also lyricist-librettist for two musicals with composer Alan Menken: Weird Romance (WPA 1992, York 2004) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which had its sold out, extended world premiere in Montreal in Summer 2015; cast album release soon. He made his professional debut in 1984 with the English Adaptation of La Bohéme at the Public Theatre; and he has since written music and lyrics for Theatreworks/USA’s all-new, award-winning Young Audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera (1996) and Les Misérables (1999) (book and direction for both by Rob Barron). Currently he is writing book, music and lyrics for a musical based on the iconic Russian novel The Golden Calf. Spencer’s published books are the Alien Nation novel Passing Fancy (Pocket, 1994), The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide (Heinemann, 2005, a regularly reprinted industry standard) and the script of Weird Romance (Samuel French, 1993). He is on faculty and teaches at the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and has taught at HB Studio, the Workshop Studio Theater and Goldsmith’s College in London. His primary professional affiliations are BMI, The Dramatists Guild and The International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.

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