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First Prize

Israela Margarit's deeply felt, semi-autobiographical play details the career of a female classical musician.

Brian Dykstra, Susan Ferrara, and Lori Prince
(© Ry Pepper)
Concert pianist Israela Margalit's deeply felt, semi-autobiographical play First Prize, now at the ArcLight Theatre, traces the life of a classical musician from her first professional audition all the way through a long career. The talented cast, under the direction of Margarett Perry, shuffles many roles with aplomb during the show's 100 intermissionless minutes; chief among them is Lori Price, whose winning smile especially endears us to the central character, Adrianna Woodland.

A young pianist, Adriana soon learns that it takes a lot more than talent to make a name for herself. While this isn't a particularly new idea, it's not one we necessarily associate with the classical music world, and Margalit's first-hand knowledge of the subject is apparent..

There are many colorful passages detailing Adriana's interactions with successful conductors (perhaps inspired by the playwright's marriage to Lorin Maazel) all played masterfully by Brian Dykstra, who makes us laugh and cringe at the slimy characters he embodies.

One is an Eastern European maestro who lures Adrianna to his hotel room with the promise of an important phone call from Moscow, only to force himself on her after shoveling a plateful of hummus down his throat. She narrowly escapes, squeezing out from under him and stomping on his foot with her heel. It's played as physical comedy despite the darker undertones, and the contrast works nicely.

Less successful are the more direct scenes with potential agents that can be summed up by the play's tagline, "call us after you've made a career, and we'll be happy to discover you." They;re slightly amusing at first, but soon weigh the play down, feeling more like venting than well-constructed dialogue.

Still it's a joy to watch Dykstra, Price, and castmates Susan Ferrara and Christopher Hirsh engage with each other. A particularly vivid moment comes early on when Adrianna is talking with Adam, her biggest threat for first prize in a piano competition. They flirt through dissecting each other's styles, mussing about the future, and promising to help each other's careers if they "make it." In that moment their passions align, and Margalit's dialogue comes alive with a weightlessness that effortlessly carries the scene, allowing us to peer into these two creative souls.

A lot happens along the way, but that memory remains in their minds -- and ours as well