Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

The Morini Strad

Also see Sharon's review of One November Yankee

David Nevell and
Mariette Hartley

I have to admit out front that I'm not a huge fan of "unlikely friendship" plays, in which two complete opposites start out hating each other, but ultimately end up with a mutual respect. Willy Holtzman's The Morini Strad is a better than average example of the genre, largely because it doesn't try to oversell the friendship, but also because there's a bit more to it than that.

The two characters destined to gain a deeper understanding of each other are Erica Morini, a world famous violinist at (or, in actuality, past) the end of her career, and Brian Skarstad, a not-at-all famous violin maker. What brings these two together is Morini's need to have her violin repaired. But it's not just a violin; it's a $3.5 million Stradivarius. And Morini doesn't just need it repaired, she needs it repaired so perfectly, and so under-the-radar, that no one will ever know it had been damaged.

The differences between Morini and Skarstad are easily apparent. She's older; he's younger. She's famous; he's toiling in obscurity. She's alone; he has a family. And as the play itself puts it, she is an artist, while he is an artisan. But there are also similarities, which are just as easily apparent. They both love violins and the music they make; they're both extremely talented; and they're both well aware of how talented they are.

The two are forced to talk to each other, as Morini will not let the Strad out of her sight while Skarstad works on it. But once the work is complete, Morini throws a curve at Skarstad: she intends to sell the violin and wants Skarstad to sell it. This means, as Skarstad immediately recognizes, a life-changing amount of money will come his way as a commission. The move makes Morini and Skarstad both partners and adversaries—partners because they each stand to gain immeasurably from the sale, and adversaries because Morini retains the right to veto any buyer, and she's very particular about where her Strad will go.

Mariette Hartley plays Morini as a woman whom age has left somewhat limited, physically, but who is still formidable. A successful female violinist from a time when violinists were expected to be male, Hartley's Morini is not someone who can be easily pushed around. David Nevell presents a Skarstad who is a decent foil for her, as he, too, is not easily pushed around. Nevell's Skarstad is also a bit awkward, as befits a man who prefers to spend most of his time with instruments, rather than people.

Also of note is that Holtzman's play is very neatly constructed to provide for live music from a young violinist. In this case, the violinist is Geneva Lewis, who adds some genuine beauty to the show, and eloquently, yet without a word, shows us who Morini was before she became who she is.

The most troublesome part of this West Coast premiere production is the program for the show. Both Morini and Skarstad really lived, and a half page reading "The True Story" and a director's note give away some rather key plot points of their story and, therefore, the play. Holtzman still has some surprises in store if you happen to know what actually happened, but if you don't, the play likely unfolds better.

The Morini Strad runs at the Colony Theatre in Burbank through December 16, 2012. For tickets and information, see

The Colony Theatre Company—Barbara Beckley, Artistic Director; Trent Steelman, Executive Director—presents The Morini Strad by Willy Holtzman. Scenic Design by Stephen Gifford; Costume Design by Kate Bergh; Lighting Design by Jared A. Sayeg; Sound Design by Drew Dalzell; Properties Design & Set Dressing by MacAndME; Production Stage Manager Ashley Boehne Ehlers; Public Relations David Elzer/Demand PR. Directed by Stephanie Vlahos.

Erica Morini - Mariette Hartley
Brain Skarstad - David Nevell
Young Violinist - Geneva Lewis

Photo: Michael Lamont

- Sharon Perlmutter

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