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Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Out of Tune and Out of Context:
The Kreutzer Sonata at Luna Stage

Also see Bob's review of Translations

Larry Pine (foreground), Gil Morgenstern (violin) and Priya Mayadas (piano)
As a showcase for long time marriage partners Larry and Margaret Pine, The Kreutzer Sonata amply demonstrates that both are serious and talented artists. Their stage adaptation of the 1890 Leo Tolstoy novella is a one-act monologue with a classical music interlude and an ambitious music and sound score. Margaret Pine has directed, and provided the elaborate sound design which includes her own adaptation of themes by Ludwig Von Beethoven. The monologue is in the capable hands of Larry Pine. Also appearing on stage are a violinist (Gil Morgenstern) and a pianist (Priya Mayadas) who beautifully perform the first movement of the Beethoven sonata as part of the telling of the tale.

Pozdnyshev (Pine) carrying a well worn valise slowly and wearily enters from the rear and along the side, passing under a cold, hard white rectangle of light. The manner in which the light appears to be absorbed by the darkness around it suggests a dank, forbidding night. Vivid and spacious sounds of trains fill the auditorium, telling us that we are in a railway station. Pozdnyshev makes his way to the front. He has entered a railway car with an upholstered chair into which he settles. (Not associating upholstered chairs with railway cars, this viewer initially had the incorrect impression that he had checked into a room after arriving at the station by train.)

For the following 85 minutes, the viewer is placed in the position of sitting with Pozdnyshev in a railway compartment listening to his attenuated account of his psychosexual psychoses, and murderous breakdown. He describes himself at age 15 as being tormented by the nakedness of women. Shortly thereafter, a friend of his older brother takes him to a bordello where he has his first experience with a woman. Pozdnyshev tells us that, "since that night I have not been able to have a pure relationship ... only debauchery."

Years later when Pozdnyshev marries, he regards himself as a pig seeking impure gratification, and marriage as the ultimate act of prostitution for a woman. Several years and children later, Troukhatchevsky, a cultured violinist, comes into their lives. He encourages Poznyshev's wife's piano playing, and plays duets with her at a gathering in their home. When they play the Kreutzer Sonata together (this is where the musicians play the more than ten minute long first movement of the sonata), Pozdnyshev is jealous of what he perceives as the passion that the music evokes in them. His wife indicates her willingness not to continue her music-centered relationship with the violinist, but although aware that he is paranoid and jealous, Pozdnyshev encourages his wife to pursue it. Coming home unexpectedly late one night, he encounters Troukhatchevsky eating with his wife. Assuming the worst, he flies into a jealous rage, and stabs his wife to death with a dagger ("I killed her earlier with my piggery"). After eleven months, he is freed from prison on the grounds of insanity.

The stark intensity of the direction combines with the dialogue underlined by the rich musical sound score and a brooding powerful performance by Larry Pine to deliver a chilling, cleanly staged and sharply edged production. Sadly, all this talented effort is for naught. For it is neither a fair representation of Tolstoy's novella and philosophy nor effective theatre. Let me deal with the latter first. The strong dramatic music scoring sometimes requires an enervating, drawn out reading of the dialogue in order to accommodate it. Despite the pained intensity shown by Larry Pine as he listens to the playing of the first movement of the sonata and the strength of the music and its interpretation, its inclusion stops the drama cold in its tracks for a considerable portion of the evening's short running time. Missing is the captivation of the cool cleverness of Tolstoy's writing which is evident in the novella. It is obscured here by the pain and agony of Larry Pine's interpretation. Although well performed and logically conceived, it places us in the position of feeling trapped in a railway car with an unpleasant monster.

The adaptation leaves us with the feeling that we are in the presence of a variation on Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov. This is not what Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata is about. In it, there are several women (at the first) and a young liberal who share the railway car with Pozdnyshev. Their conversations with him have a charm and delight nowhere to be found here. This novella is Tolstoy's treatise against marriage and carnal sensuality. Essentially, the novella is a mad but brilliant presentation of latter period Tolstoy's rejection of conventional morality in favor of his view that in true Christianity marriage is a sin. Many of his words on this remain present in the text. However, in the novella, most of Pozdnyshev's speeches are the truth. This is diametrically opposite of the way we are given to understand them in this stage adaptation. In the novella, Pozdnyshev only goes mad at the end when he murders a wife whom he neither loves or even likes. And the cause of insanity is his attempt to live by the false values of society.

The Kreutzer Sonata was performed earlier at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y, in a concert version. It is very possible that this music-centered work is most suited to such a presentation and audience. Tolstoy's novella is unreservedly recommended. Sadly, despite their evident talent and seriousness of purpose, the same cannot be said for the Pine's dour and misguided adaptation.

The Kreutzer Sonata continues performances through October 29 (Thurs. 7:30 p.m./ Fri. & Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m.) at Luna Stage, 695 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07042. Box Office: 973-744-3309. Online:

The Kreutzer Sonata adapted by Margaret and Larry Pine from the Leo Tolstoy novella; directed by Margaret Pine

Cast: Larry Pine (Pozdnyshev)/ Priya Mayadas (Piano), Gil Morgenstern (Violin)

Photo: EJ Carr

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- Bob Rendell

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