by Jon Marans
Directed by Jon Marans
Starring Kenneth Tigar and Ken Ferrigni
Banyan Theater Company
Cook Theatre/FSU Center for the Performing Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 941-552-1032
July 16-August 2, 2009

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

What a treat to hear Schuman's wonderful music so skillfully woven into Jon Marans' poignant story of the reconciliation of two musicians to the time (1986) and circumstances of their lives. And to each other-on the one hand, an American pianist of 25, after a dry spell as soloist, hoping to learn to accompany singers; on the other, an old Viennese teacher of singers, nearly impoverished, teaching what he hopes will be the first of needed students. As, after a stoic hesitation, Stephen (Ken Ferrigni, suited in formal gray and rightly incredibly stiff) enters the studio of Prof. Mashkan, he is not at ease with any of the pre-WWII furnishings and faded umber wallpaper.  Stephen is under duress, having planned to escape the dictum of a renowned piano teacher who insists that, before his first lesson, he must study singing for three months under Mashkan. Stephen's preferences for modern architecture, music, performers completely contrasts with Mashkan's artistic loves, as embodied in Vienna. To add anger to Stephen's anxiety, ex-Nazi Kurt Waldheim is running for office, and Mashkan doesn't seem to care, even when Stephen admits he is a Jew.

Concordant with the cyclical Dichterliebe songs and poet Heinrich Heine's lyrics, which mingle the singer's sadness with joy, Stephen and Mashkan go through crises professionally, politically, and personally. Surprises come with changes of tone. Stephen leaves for a time in order to find his way back, not just to face the Professor but also interface. He helps save Mashkan. Grudges are dropped, though much, especially concerning the Holocaust in the country where it took such a toll, is hard to tolerate. Summer blossoms after a difficult but productive spring. How? Learning the details keeps one on the edge of one's seat!

Director Marans has great help from Sound Designer Steve Lemke in producing  superb music from piano and recorded bridges as well as a convincing storm. Marans also gets memorable, nuanced performances from Kenneth Tigar's deep Mashkan, with his perfect German and oral interpretation of poetry, and Ken Ferrigni's striking Stephen (his most profound and varied of three well-taken roles in as many years for Banyan). My only reservation is the height of the piano bench; it was not possible up close to see the lips of one seated there speaking or singing. Set Designer Bill Clarke evokes Vienna from Mashkan's point of view solely with props and furnishings, but he adds an effective scrim that, with Michael Pasquini's lighting, indicates a metaphoric passage beyond the studio wall. Jaye Annette Sheldon provides costumes which, especially for Stephen, show changes of mood and attitude. There's also a symbolic Tyrolean hat. Pastries have import and, differently from most plays, a few--though small--are actually eaten! 

Jon Merlyn is Production Stage Manager for a Banyan production that should be as hot a ticket as this summer and a very, very cool respite from the temperature outside the Cook Theatre.     2 hrs, 15 mins. w/ 15 min. intermission.

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