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San Francisco by Richard Connema

An Engrossing Production of John Fisher's Schonberg

Also see Richard's reviews of The Passion of Crawford and Ann Hampton Callaway

Playwright John Fisher, who wrote such cutting edge camp plays as Medea:The Musical, The Joy of Gay Sex and Combat!, has written an engrossing drama involving two separate plays going side by side on the same small living room set. Schonberg is recently played in the small four-sided intimate theatre in the basement of the Rhinoceros Studio.

John Fisher's absorbing 95-minute one-act play involves the meeting of influential classical composer Arnold Schonberg (John Fisher) and Hollywood wit and bon vivant Oscar Levant (Matthew Martin) in 1944. The playwright, using a method that Alan Acykbourn used in several of his plays, presents another play alongside involving a 40ish John (Matt Weimer), a music history professor at a Los Angeles college unhappy with himself for being gay and thinking of a heterosexual relationship with a close lesbian friend. John is a jaded individual who has been in a relationship with Chris (Michael Vega) but now wants to try something different. As John says in the play, "Chris is in love with me and I love Crist," which is usually what happens in a long term partnership. The set by Erik Flatmo's open living room is perfect as the actors enter and exit perfectly to describe the time periods.

The drama involving the meetings of controversial composer Arnold Schonberg and Oscar Levant are the more entrancing of the two and John Fisher gives a mesmerizing performance as the contentious German artiste. He could do a one man show on this interesting composer of atonal music (although Schonberg hated that term and called his music "natural"). Matthew Martin makes an excellent young Oscar Levant before he had his nineteen nervous breakdowns in the early 1960s. Matthew has been able to show some neuroses in his acting as the young wit just before Oscar played parts in the MGM musicals. These little neuroses grew into first class neurotic tendencies for the droll pianist.

The scenes between this two celebrates conflicting about the war which was raging in 1944, Adolph Hitler, American generals, Hindersmith's music which Schonberg considered trite, Hollywood musicals, Judaism and George Gershwin are fascinating to hear to someone who knew that period. The conversations are spot on. We even got a snippet of a song Oscar wrote for a film musical.

The modern day scene involves John and Chris, partners for years, telling their two best lesbian friends Jane (Maryssa Wanlass) and Ash (Stefanie Goldstein) of the 10-year break up. John makes the announcement to the consternation of the three. It seems that John is world weary from bedding male students, kissing to make a "political point" in the gay world, and just plain tired of the whole scene. He believes he can become "straight" at this time in his life. He also fancies himself being in love with Jane. Jane abandons her partnership with Ash to see if the two can work into a heterosexual relationship.

Matt Weimer is very good as the confused Josh and excellent in a scene involving Jane at the restaurant. Matt acts like a shy teenager on his first date with a member of the opposite sex. Maryssa Wanlass as Jane gives an eye-catching performance. Michael Vega and Stefanie Goldstein give effective performances as back ups for the two main characters.

John Fisher's theme of these side by side plays is "Opposites attract Opposites." He asks, "What in us is drawn to self-destruction?" He is more successful with the Schonberg confrontation with Levant while the modern day section seems incomplete. The problems between John and Chris are not fleshed out and you wonder why Jane and John suddenly want to go heterosexual.

John Fisher also directed his play and he skillfully enhances the theatrical tension with his adroit staging. Some scenes overlap and intersect but the timing is perfect as we go from one time period to another.

Matthew Martin gives a brief epilogue on Arnold Schonberg as to his important contribution to modern music that is 12 tones in nature. There is not doubt that Schonberg is a major factor to new works, like Phillip Glass's unusual scores, as we hear snippets of his complicated score.

Schonberg played the Rhinoceros Studio, 2926th 16th, San Francisco through May 20th.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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