The Morini Strad

Carla Belver and David Whalen
City Theatre is presenting the debut production of Willy Holtzman's The Morini Strad, a two-character short story of a play inspired by world-class violinist Erica Morini (Carla Belver) and violin craftsman Brian Skarstad (David Whalen). She is around 90 years old, living alone, long past retirement; he is a middle-aged family man making a living by doing instrument repair, when his passion is really making violins. Morini was a child prodigy in the music world, making her Carnegie Hall debut three weeks after her seventeen birthday. Performing has been her life, and her violin doesn't just belong to her, it is part of her.

She has hired Skarstad to repair, then to arrange for the sale of, her 1727 Davidoff Stradivarius—her legendary, and now $3.5 million, violin (the real Skarstad said it "tonally, was the best violin I ever heard, of all the violins I've ever heard. By far. It's not close"). By witnessing their brief relationship, which was inspired by facts, we can see similarities in the lives of the two artists—they see them too, and are, in different ways, inspired. She is making peace while looking back, and he is finding his heart and moving forward.

Whalen is natural and appealing as Brian, though the character, being contemporary and everyman, is quite ordinary against Belver's Erica, who is alternately stubborn, wickedly funny and grand. Morini was born in Vienna, and her remaining accent is skillfully employed by Belver, adding a haughty element to the character. Holtzman has provided a number of clever and funny comments, mostly for Morini; that such language appears to conflict with her character makes the woman increasingly endearing (when Skarstad mentions his children, she comments, "You needn't boast of procreation.")

A bit more than just a character study, there is a progression to the piece, though the one surprising turn late in the proceedings almost seems unbelievable (even knowing it's true) because the rest of the play is on such an even keel.

Tony Ferrieri has designed a nicely detailed violin repair shop on a platform, with a somewhat sparse apartment sitting room on the floor. A nook and a cranny in the set provide additional settings. Director Daniella Topol brings it all together in a nice little package.

The Morini Strad continues through December 12 in City Theatre's Hamburg Studio. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit

Photo: Suellen Fitzsimmons

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-- Ann Miner

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