Saturday, January 15, 2011

Three Pianos *

I was supposed to see this New York Theatre Workshop production on the day of the post-Christmas blizzard. Instead of accepting the blizzard as divine intervention, I foolishly persisted and finally saw it today, the day before it closes. Have you ever known within 30 seconds that a play was not for you? That was my experience here. My heart sank as I realized I was trapped for two long hours of pointless, furious activity. I suppose the intent of the three writer/arranger/performers, Rick Burkhardt, Alec Duffy and Dave Malloy, was to deconstruct Schubert's Winterreise to make it more "accessible" to a modern audience. The opening gimmick is that the three men serving wine to the audience upon arrival turn out to be the performers. They commiserate about their lives, talk about the difficulties of being a composer now as well as in Schubert's day, gradually drift into a reenactment of an alcohol-fueled Schubertiade, assuming the roles of Schubert and his friends. Now and then they perform a song from the cycle, often with commentary. Leonard Bernstein they're not. Nor the Marx Brothers. Andreea Mincic's set, featuring a miniature village whose windows light up occasionally, a birch forest with vertical flourescent lights hanging from the trees, a clothes dryer with period costumes stored in it, a metal stand with numerous house plants, a birdhouse with a bottle of booze hidden inside, a cemetery, two crystal chandeliers over the audience and three upright pianos that get pushed around the stage frantically, perfectly captures the chaotic nature of the piece. On the rare occasion when the shenanigans cease long enough for a song to presented in a form reasonably close to the original, Schubert's music gets a chance to shine through. Alas, these moments are rare. I cannot imagine that this play could instill any desire to listen to more Schubert in anyone. Nevertheless, a substantial number of people seemed to be enjoying themselves thoroughly. Maybe they had more wine than I did.

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