BWW Reviews: Hartley Continues to Enthrall in MORINI STRAD Extension at the Colony
With The Morini Strad Willy Holtzman has constructed a lovely two-character play along the lines of Alfred Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy. It's not only because it deals with an elderly woman and a younger man who assists her - eventually becoming a trusted friend, in spite of their differing viewpoints - but more importantly the rhythms of both plays are musical. Morini Strad more obviously so, as the main character is a concert violin prodigy Erica Morini (Mariette Hartley) who has a quest near the end of her life to find the right home for her Davidoff Strad (Stradivarius) valued at about 3.5 million. Brian Skarstad (David Nevell) is a luthier, a violin maker, who does repairs for a living. He has a wife and children, dislikes artists and their lifestyles, and thus, when he meets Morini to evaluate her damaged Strad for restoration, the two immediately clash and become an unlikely pair, not unlike Daisy Werthan and her hired, unwanted chauffeur Hoke in... Daisy.
But enough about ...Daisy! Morini Strad's purpose is to reach deep into the music and to educate its essence, its very core to the average person. Hardly an easy task! Secretive and isolated, musicians seldom share, except with each other, their techniques, motivations and overall feelings about their art. Madame Morini is no exception. Based on a real prodigy, she was considered a diva - at a time when diva had a positive connotation, symbolizing a goddess. And with that in mind, she is totally private. In fact, she never leaves her rich New York apartment. Her husband passed on years ago, and she is watched over by a nurse, a conservator, vultures she calls them. She trusts no one and, as Holtzman sets out to prove, is in desperate need of a change. Skarstad has passed on his art of violin making, simply because he must support his family. Morini witnesses a genuine human being in Skarstad, finds the real artist in him and goes further with her sense of trust than she has ever gone before.
In the end as she lies dying in a hospital bed, Skarstad discovers that her precious Strad has been stolen, but refuses to tell her. Knowledge of it would only diminish her spirit, for the Strad and her art of music were what she lived for... totally. Morini in Holtzman's words lived according to the symphony of life, which consists of 4 stages: fast, slow, fast and faster, the third being the most urgent, where one must dance "do the minuet", live life to the fullest.
Under Stephanie Vlahos' fluid direction, Hartley is magnificent as Morini giving her every ounce of sincerity and passion. She's immensely strong, very funny and brings out all of her eccentricities, making her quite a charmer in the final analysis. Hartley exudes the lady's feistiness, sardonic sense of humor to the letter: "I detest students... Play it like you mean it!" Nevell is equally wonderful as he plays out Skarstad's frustrations in his efforts to bring friendship to this lonely woman and to recapture the true artist within himself, the repairman in need of repair. GenEva Lewis is a 14 year-old prodigy herself and is sensational in her musical appearances throughout as the Young Violinist that was Madame Morini. Stephen Gifford's simplistic set of various places is as elegant as the music. And Kate Bergh's colorful, shimmering costume shawls for Hartley are beautiful.
Don't miss The Morini Strad through Sunday January 13 only! Watching two wonderful actors play out the conflicting rhythms of life to Holtzman's uplifting strains is a valued and most enjoyable experience.