I’m suggesting a new opening for The Morini Strad, one which I think would hold the attention of the audience without giving away the plot. Actor Michael Laurence, in character as Brian, would come out on stage and announce “The mystery that you are about to see unfold has not been solved to this day.” It’s an important fact, and as things stand, it comes too late in the evening to have the impact it should. The events on stage are based on what really happened, a fact you’d know only if you happened to read the program insert. But this information is central to a real appreciation of the play.
Erica Morini was a child prodigy on the violin. She enjoyed a successful career as an adult, but eventually was unable to keep playing; yet she managed to hold on to her greatest treasure, an extremely rare and valuable instrument known as the Davidoff Stradivarius. The violin, created in 1727 by Antonio Stradivari, was renowned for its unique sound.
When the violin needed repair in 1995, Morini turned to Brian Skarstad, who not only repairs and restores the instruments, but is also a noted violin maker in his own right. Skarstad knew Morini until her death, which occurred only a few months after they met.
Mary Beth Peil is one of my favorite actors. As Erica Morini, she conveys the temperamental nature of the artist, while using her sense of comic timing to make her likeable. Peil possesses a regal beauty, and a versatility as a performer which makes her equally suited to playing an exuberant ex-chorus girl in Follies, and also the scheming mother-in-law, Jackie, on TV’s The Good Wife. If I had to compare her to another artist, Rosemary Harris comes to mind.
I’m unfamiliar with Michael Laurence’s work, but he’s a ruggedly handsome actor whose warmth and sincerity bring Brian Skarstad vividly to life. He ably walks the tightrope of feeling at turns annoyed and frustrated by Morini, yet also affectionate and loyal. We see the dollar signs in his eyes at the thought of a large commission, yet we know that his true passion is for the violin, and the chance to take simple wood and turn it into a thing of infinite beauty.
Hanah Stuart is such a delight as the young violinist, I would have been very happy to have a large chunk of repetitious dialogue deleted, and instead, to have listened to her play a lot more.
In fact, the major problem with this production is that the same facts and viewpoints are repeated over and over again. Since the play is basically a dialogue between Brian and Erica, it becomes static when the conversation doesn’t move along what little plot there is. I got the feeling that the play had been padded out. It would be so much better to cut the fat and present a leaner, more interesting one-act offering at seventy minutes instead of one hundred minutes. And really, an hour and forty minutes plus is too long to stay seated without a break.
The wonderful performers make this a worthwhile drama to see. But now, it’s time to respect the real life story and the audience, and cut the play to create a more dynamic theatrical experience. And the mystery of The Morini Strad? Well, all I can say is it’s a dilly.
Photos by James Leynse
The Morini Strad
Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters
Through April 28, 2012
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics.