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One Discordant Violin

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 3, 2019

Jacques Mindreau and Anthony Black
Photo by Carol Rosegg
One Discordant Violin, opening today at 59E59 Theaters, is a haunting duet that briefly brings together a world that is shaped by words with another that is shaped by music. It takes the form of a resurrected memory, as its narrator tells us about his long-ago accidental discovery of the hidden wreck of an old theater and of entering into a place in which, he says, "my soul was pulled out of me and thrown up in the air."

The highly imaginative 70-minute work is an adaptation by Anthony Black of a short story by Yann Martel, an author best known for his hallucinatory novel Life of Pi. It features Mr. Black, who also co-directs with Ann-Marie Kerr, as the narrator, with violinist, vocalist, and composer Jacques Mindreau performing classical and original music in counterpoint to Black's storytelling.

How Mr. Black's character and the musician came together at a special time in the narrator's life is what drives the central plot, and it is best left as a gift for you to unwrap as a member of the audience. But what fascinates most is the portrait the storyteller paints of himself as a young man, a would-be writer who was "obsessed with words," someone who will (and does) rhapsodize over Joseph Conrad's use of the semicolon. But it is his unexpected discovery of music as another form of expression, especially through a new piece that thrills him to the core, that becomes the transcendent moment of his life.

The production begins with Mr. Mindreau entering the dimly lit set, which is covered in dust and broken bits of plaster, along with a few scattered folding chairs. He is carrying a flashlight, which he sets upright on the floor so that the light shines up on him. He doesn't speak, but he proceeds to play the violin he has been carrying. You might get the impression, as I did, that this is someone who had once played in this performance space, which subsequently was damaged in a war.

As it happens, war is a significant thread that runs through the work (the musician is a vet), but it's dealt with obliquely, raising many questions along the way without answering any of them. All told, One Discordant Violin is a decidedly literary work, an allegory that becomes accessible in its translation to the stage thanks to Mr. Black's storytelling skills and Mr. Mindreau's lovely performances of Baroque and original compositions written by him and the play's sound designer Aaron Collier, a master at the live looping that brings additional layers to the music. Projections designed by Nick Bottomley, and the evocative lighting, also by Bottomley with Anna Shepard, add greatly to the overall effect. Remove these, and you are left with a lightly staged retelling of a story with a short arc aimed at capturing a singular moment in the narrator's life. But all of the elements of stagecraft come together in a way that blends the ethereal and the mundane into a fascinating theatrical event.

One Discordant Violin
Through November 24, 2019
2b theatre company, at Theater B at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street between Madison and Park Avenues.
Tickets online and current performance schedule: