Vineyard Theatre XXV
Douglas Aibel, Artistic Director
Jennifer Garvey-Blackwell, Exec. Director
The Piano Teacher
(Vineyard Theatre Website)
Gertrude and Irving Dimson Theatre
108 East 15th Street
NY, NY 10003
By Julia Cho
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Cast: Elizabeth Franz as Mrs. K
Carmen M. Herlihy as Mary Fields
John Boyd as Michael
Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Ilona Somogyi
Lighting Design: David Weiner
Sound Design: Obadiah Eaves
Wig Design: Charles G. LaPointe
Production Stage Manager: Bryce McDonald
Production Manager: Ben Morris
General Manager: Reed Ridgley
Casting: Cindy Tolan
Director of External Affairs: Amy Fiore
Associate Artistic Director: Sarah Stern
Press: Sam Rudy Media
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 28, 2007
We are drawn into the story of Mrs. K and her deceased husband, Mr. K (names shortened from a mysterious, foreign surname), with Elizabeth Franz circling the stage and descending into the front row, early on, with a plate of Pepperidge Farm cookies. This one dramatic device erases the line between onstage and offstage, making us feel like voyeurs into Mrs. K’s lonely, languorous lifestyle. The Piano Teacher takes place in the present (she watches “Dancing with the Stars”), in a “quiet suburb”, only visible through leafy branches outside the window. The set is a musty living room, with a scratched and partially draped, grand piano, a pantry into a non-descript kitchen, an old-fashioned black telephone, a deep armchair, and a small television on a stand. Although Mrs. K. tells us that she had few financial concerns, she lives mainly in her mind, with travel shows her single escape.
Elizabeth Franz, a Tony winner for the 1999 Broadway production, Death of a Salesman, has been a prolific and renowned actor. In this role, she walks with a shuffle and moves with a tremor, and she soliloquizes effortlessly, until unwelcome, repressed thoughts suppress her speech. These thoughts slowly unfold, as expressed in her mannerisms and expression. This is an actor who creates a quintessential nuance, body language and personality shifts that engage and unsettle the viewer. Mrs. K. was a piano teacher for 30 years and a wife for 36. She married a lonely immigrant from an unnamed, war-ridden country, and her husband grew up with psychic wounds from what he saw, what he experienced, and what he knew. These wounds were mainly shielded from Mrs. K., as she chooses to remember. She tells us and her two visitors that Mr. K. was a mild, unassuming man, a wounded soul, a generous and gentle husband and companion to her students, while they waited in the kitchen for their lessons. Some came early, and some stayed late, just to play crosswords with Mr. K., or so she says.
The two visitors are Mary Fields (Carmen M. Herlihy) and Michael (John Boyd). Mary was summoned by Mrs. K. from a dusty address book, as she gave into curiosity to reach out to former students to see if they still played the piano. Mrs. K. had lost her students after the “last recital”, when the performances all imploded. Mary was now married with two children, but, regardless, came to visit one day, and the very locked and guarded door was suddenly opened (a plot device). Mrs. K. went to the door to welcome Mary and her news. That news was not so welcome, after all, and Mrs. K.’s demeanor switched to disturbed and devastated. Mr. K. had not been doing just crossword puzzles, as the modest kitchen housed devilish secrets, none physical, all psychical. Mrs. K. was lucky with this encounter, but not as lucky with the second. Michael was menacing and malevolent, and, when he yanked the telephone cord, the audience braced itself. Michael had been Mrs. K.’s only prodigy, and she had earlier revealed that his and the other students’ parents had been destroyed by Michael’s fate.
The Piano Teacher leaves the audience in intentional imbalance, as it sorts out the roots of Mrs. K.’s self- denial and delusion. It seemed that the door to the pantry, leading to the kitchen was much too close to the piano, for Mrs. K. not to have heard or ever seen the discussions and doings during and before her lessons, all those years. Mr. K. had been long retired, and she had likened him to a “companion” to her music students, a support system to her career. It also seems preposterous that Mrs. K. did not before know of these truths, so searingly thrown to her by the predatory Michael, a man possessed with Mr. K.’s words and teachings, more so than those of Mrs. K., his paid piano teacher. And, if she knew of these truths, why would she summon her students to visit? Guilt? Fantasy? There is also the series of telephone calls, all silent hang-ups. Probably they were initiated by Michael, but we learn of his logistical whereabouts and “modus operandi”, and no cell phones are visible.
Julia Cho intentionally injects this dissonance, and some in the audience return to the theater again to further analyze her hidden details. There are mysteries, and there are inconclusive puzzles. Mr. K.’s origins remain one of those mysteries, and what Mrs. K. knew and when she knew it remain another mystery. What is totally revealed, however, is the fine theatrical talent of Elizabeth Franz, an actor’s actor. Kudos to Ms. Franz, and kudos to Julia Cho and Director, Kate Whoriskey.
Elizabeth Franz as Mrs. K and Carmen M. Herlihy as Mary Fields
"The Piano Teacher"
Photo Courtesy of Carol Rosegg
John Boyd as Michael and Elizabeth Franz as Mrs. K
"The Piano Teacher"
Photo Courtesy of Carol Rosegg
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