Robert and Clara Schumann and Their Friend Brahms
Trio Sonata is Jewel Seehaus-Fisher's dramatization of the relationship between Robert and Carla Schumann and Johannes Brahms from their meeting in 1856 until shortly after Robert Schumann's death less than three years later.
According to the play (which seems to be largely historically accurate, by the time the Schumanns met the younger and emerging Brahms, Robert Schumann was already mentally unstable, and he would in short order be spending the last two years of his life in a mental institution. Clara, a great classical pianist, did all she could to provide the means for Robert to survive and continue to write his music. In addition to raising six children, she went on concert tours, managed her household's affairs, and endeavored to preserve Robert's job as conductor of a Düsseldorf orchestra despite his most erratic behavior. The Schumanns loved both Brahms and his music and made him their protégé. Brahms was devoted to them, and ran the household and tended to Robert during his institutionalization (Robert delusionally believed that Clara was conspiring against him and would not see her), enabling Clara to tour in order to secure needed income. According to Trio Sonata, Johannes and Clara succumbed to their passion and sexually consummated their relationship just prior to Robert's death. Clara thus expected the younger Johannes to assume Robert's place in her household only to have him tell her that their relationship was over, and that he was leaving to tour and devote himself to his own career.
As Seehaus-Fisher's overwrought romantic potboiler draws to a close, there is one particularly glaring example of the deficiencies of Seehaus-Fisher's romantic potboiler. Johannes tells Clara that their relationship is over and it is better to have had their passion than not have experienced it. Johannes declares, "I will always be there for you, but right now, I have to go." The heartbroken Clara responds, "Then I'll play my grief and my joy in having known and loved such a man." Try reading that line with a straight face.
Director Lauren Mills, who recently directed a superior production of Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius for the Women's Theatre, is stymied by the artificiality and melodramatic excess of Trio Sonata. Marc Geller's one note portrayal of Robert Schumann is shrill and out of control. Nicholas Wilder's Brahms is flatly underplayed. Rich Maloy is solid as Hasenclever, Robert's sympathetic doctor.
All is not lost. Maria Silverman's Clara shines as brightly as a beacon on a dark night. Silverman artfully spins a cloak of verisimilitude around her Clara. There is depth, a variety of emotion, and naturalistic ease in her performance which is startling as it occurs in the vacuum that surrounds Silverman. Oh, as to that corny, hard to read with a straight face, line, Silverman reads it beautifully. The problem is that, like Trio Sonata itself, it is unsalvageable.
Trio Sonata performed from March 6 – March 22, 2009 at the Women's Theater Company at the Parsippany Playhouse, 1130 Knoll Road, Lake Hiawatha, NJ, 07034; Box Office: 973-316-3033; on-line: www.womenstheater.org.
Trio Sonata by Jewel Seehaus-Fisher; directed by Lauren Mills