‘The Morini Strad’
Written by Willy Holtzman
Directed by Stephanie Vlahos
The Colony Theatre Company, Burbank, Calif.
Nov. 17 – Dec. 16, 2012
As Mariette Hartley bowed gracefully to a standing ovation at the curtain for “The Morini Strad,” I was reminded of that old TV commercial for a company that mass-produced cakes and desserts: “Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.”
To which I would add: “Nobody doesn’t like Mariette Hartley.”
All actors live for the moment (“curtain going up!”) and usually aren’t pleased to have attention called to their long – even if distinguished – careers. So let’s simply note that Ms. Hartley has been coming before us in movies, television shows and stage plays for a while now and has, for just as long, earned wide respect and admiration for her skills.
Those skills are quite apparent as Hartley becomes Erica Morini, a renowned Jewish Hungarian violinist from the 1920s to the 1960s whose wealthy father had gifted her with a Stradivarius violin early in her career. This play is a docudrama, based on Morini’s real life and the mystery of her 300-year-old violin.
Not that Hartley plays the beautiful faux Strad herself – there are, after all, some limits to her talents. The actual fiddling is done by a 14-year-old violinist, Geneva Lewis with her own, less famous, instrument who plays Morini playing in her prime, in flashbacks.
Indeed, the prop Strad is basically the play’s protagonist.
Morini (Hartley) handles it with all the loving care of a mother cradling a newborn as she removes it from a locked armoire to show to Brian Skarstad (David Nevell), a young luthier she has engaged to repair it. The instrument is the talisman of her life, her career, her very soul and, as such, is worth far more than its estimated market value of $3.5 million.
Skarstad knows violins and he’s staggered to be holding such a famous instrument – let alone charged with restoring it to the magnificence that was the hallmark of Antonio Stradivarius’s work.
If you know the details of the real artist’s (Morini) life, you know the arc of this play. If you don’t, you’ll soon intuit it as Hartley moves stiffly and a bit unsteadily about the nonagenarian Erica’s New York City apartment, crankily overseeing Skarstad’s efforts, in the last year of her life (she lived to be 91).
Under Vlahos’s direction, Hartley and Nevell play off each other harmoniously, never missing a beat or hitting a wrong note.