note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Pozdnyshev … Larry Pine
Pianist … Bonnie Anderson
Violinist … Piotr Buczek
In Leo Tolstoy’s novella “The Kreutzer Sonata”, the narrator --- a sympathetic stranger on a train --- listens to a fellow passenger named Pozdnyshev talk at length about his hellish marriage which ended in his murdering his wife due to her musical and (possibly) personal involvement with a violinist. It’s a grim “Russian” read as Count Tolstoy drew heavily from his own love-hate relationship with his wife Sonya (“Anna Karenina” deals with the happier side of their marriage) and the novella grieved his wife and shocked his public with its intimate revelations; ironically, Sonya saw to its publication against her husband’s wishes --- apparently she knew, in her embittered heart, that art is business and ‘tis better to be remembered negatively than to be forgotten, altogether.
Larry and Margaret Pine, an actor and his director/playwright/composer wife, are currently premiering their one-man adaptation at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre with Mr. Pine as Pozdnyshev and the audience as sounding board. The evening starts off wonderfully: David Zinn has designed an expressionistic compartment to contain its anti-hero, Dan Kotlowitz’s opening beacon glares like an infernal sun, and Ms. Pine’s “musical soundscape” of thundering train and restless strings culminates in a shriek on Judgment Day --- all in all, a nonstop trip into the heart of darkness is promised. Sadly, the trip disappoints as the Pines have not so much trimmed but rather gutted the novella, keeping only the barest of plot-bones (the novella’s monologue is static --- one long rant --- its drama lies in the actions, described, and cries out for an ensemble), and Mr. Pine, a handsome, laconic man, comes off as distinctly American. His dry, leathery tones keep him on a shouting level and his description of the murder lacks the required pity and fear (Mr. Kotlowitz, though, fills in Mr. Pine’s face with blue shadows when it comes time to strike); he is hounded by Ms. Pine’s continuing soundtrack, at times leaving him to simply wait for silence. The show’s highlight --- the scratchy, jittery first movement of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata --- is beautifully performed through a scrim by Bonnie Anderson and Piotr Buczek (sans moustache, as described); the movement grinds things to a halt but at least delivers the passion lacking in Mr. Pine’s performance.
I would be curious to see what another actor and director would do with the Pines’ adaptation as they may be too close to the subject, themselves; in her program notes, Ms. Pine states, “I won’t reveal why we both identified with this book. I choose to remain private.” I know in my bones I would be miscast in many of my own plays and those who write with certain actors in mind can often be disappointed when they are cast, while others can unexpectedly shine in the same roles. Thank God that Margaret Mitchell did not have her way when casting GONE WITH THE WIND: she used Groucho Marx as a role model when creating Rhett Butler….