Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Music Lesson

The Marin Theatre Company has opened its 2002-03 seasons with the award winning, New York bound drama The Music Lesson. The drama was written in 1999 by Pittsburgh playwright Tammy Ryan, and it is based on the true story of two Bosnian music teachers, Dolores and Augustin Martinovic, who lost everything when a war broke out between the various factions in the former Yugoslavia. They fled Sarajevo in 1995 for the United States and settled in Pittsburgh, Pa. Tammy Ryan was their neighbor and she became interested in the lives of these two talented persons. The play won the 2001 Carbonell Award for Best New American Play, and it has played in several cities in the East. Music Lesson is making its first West Coast appearance.

Ivan (Ron Campbell) and Irena (Lorri Holt) are trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and begin a new life in America. Irena is full of pain since she lost her favorite student Maja (Atosa Babaoff) during a bombing raid in Sarajevo, and she does not want to teach any longer. However, fate steps in and Ivan and Irena begin teaching music to two children: Eddie (Nicholas Taber), a talented and enthusiastic young violinist, and his sister Kat (Rosalie Ward), a hostile, confused teenager. These two children have radically different temperaments and have major emotional problems since their mother (Cambron Williamson) has recently divorced their father. To meet economic needs, the mother has a full time job as a real estate agent and she has little time for her children.

The play moves back and forth between 1996 Pittsburgh and 1992-95 Sarajevo. Maja is present in the play through a series of flashbacks and we see the contrasts between Maja and Kat. Maja has a joy of living, even through the bombs and sniper fire of war. Kat has many opportunities but is not interested in anything. The play shows how music offers solace, salvation and a coming together of the teacher and her students.

Each member of the cast is superb, led by Lorri Holt as Irena and Ron Campbell as Ivan. Both actors speak with Eastern European accents and they are word perfect as Bosnians. Nicholas Taber and Rosalie Ward are natural actors and are excellent in their roles. Cambron Williamson has a few scenes as the mother and prevents the character from being a mere caricature of a burned out mother. Atosa Babaoff is light and airy as Maja. Unfortunately, the prologue spoken by Maja is drowned out by the music of pianist Skye Atman. It is hoped that Ms. Atman will soften the music so the audience can hear the prologue.

The set is very interesting, with a living room all in an ashen gray color. The center of the back stage has a cut with jagged edges like a bomb hit the area. Inside that area are two excellent musicians, Wieslaw Pogorzelski on violin and Skye Atman on piano. The actors' movements are perfectly coordinated with the musicians. This works beautifully since you can hear Bach's "Minuet No 1," "Allegro from Sonata in F Major" by Handel and other music played perfectly and still focus on the characters. This is a serious and moving production well acted by a sterling ensemble.

The Music Lesson runs through Sunday, October 5th at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, and Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or online at

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

- Richard Connema

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