Art's Ephemerality Disguised as a Terrifying Haunted House in One Discordant Violin
Anthony Black adapts, directs, designs, and stars in a short new play based on a story by Yann Martel.
Just in time for Halloween comes One Discordant Violin at 59E59. Walking into the upstairs Theater B is a little like stepping into a haunted house. An ethereal assortment of empty chairs, lined two by two, dot the stage. Crumbled plaster and at least one mannequin head are strewn about the floor. Nick Bottomley and Anna Shepard's lighting casts unnerving shadows on the ceiling. The translucent walls of Anthony Black's set make us feel as though we're being watched.
"All this spookiness," you wonder afterward, "for a play about a man going to a concert?"
One Discordant Violin follows a ne'er-do-well writer (played by Black, who also wrote the show, codirected it with Ann-Marie Kerr, and also runs the producing 2b Theatre Company). He's on a trip to Washington, DC to visit a friend. The unnamed protagonist finds himself alone at an abandoned theater where an orchestra made up of Vietnam vets are playing works by Bach, Mozart, and a world premiere by a soldier named John Morton. Hearing this new composition will change the course of his life.
Based on Yann Martel's lengthily titled short story "The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto With One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton," this new solo show isn't scary, despite the way it's packaged. It's actually a much more gentle play than you'd expect, elegiac in tone, matter-of-fact in delivery, and generally swift in its narrated storytelling. What the piece amounts to is a discussion of the importance of music and art, and the fleeting nature of both.
So why does it look like we're all about to be murdered? I don't know. Nothing about the material, the story, the subject matter really justifies the horror-show setting in One Discordant Violin. But to be fair, that same atmosphere is gorgeous. From the live music, played by an amazing violinist named Jacques Mindreau, to Bottomley's striking and effective projections, this is a truly beautiful production from top to bottom.
It's just so far removed from what the piece is actually about. The clashing tones feel like an odd miscalculation by the impresario behind the work, whose adaptation and performance are also too static to really draw an emotional release from the audience. He's just narrating a story for us, and it's one that's missing a climax, resolution, and any real reason to care.
But it's the one haunted house I'm glad to have visited.