According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Silent Concerto

An emotionally-resonant exploration of love triangles, plot twists and the never-ending process of growing up and moving on, The Silent Concerto pulls notes from The Seagull and Private Lives to create a brilliant and bittersweet sound all its own.

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Reviewed by Cait Weiss

What is the problem with Masha?

The Silent Concerto, written by Alejandro Morales and produced by Packawallop Productions and The Hypothetical Theater Company, poses many questions, but none quite as metaphorically delicious as this. The problem with Masha, we find out, is that she’s drab, failed, worn-out, all memories and no possibility… She’s the last thing a 22-year-old drama-major aspires to be (as much in The Seagull as in real life). Even without the snuff addiction, Masha is not the stuff of doe-eyed daydreams. Unlike the boundlessly beautiful Nina, Masha is not only a dream deferred – she is a dream forfeit. And, in the 14th Street Theater’s current production of The Silent Concerto, Masha epitomizes the constant fear Morales’s characters simultaneously flee and feed.

However, for a play fixated on failed dreams, The Silent Concerto has been a refreshing success. In 2005, Fringe NYC awarded the show with Best Director and Best Set Design and both the writing and the acting are as accomplished as they are ambitious. This is what young theater in New York should be – smart, challenging, and ever-so-slightly heart-wrenching.

The play, which takes place in a two bedroom East Village apartment over the course of 10 years, begins with three bare lightbulbs – the direction, by Scott Ebersold, draws a clear distinction between the character’s realities and their revisionism – and soon we see Naldo, dressed in a Morrissey t-shirt, played by the immensely likeable Drew Hirschfield. Immediately the play bursts into a meta-meltdown and Naldo’s desperately and repetitively incants, “This is a play.” And what a play indeed…

Naldo’s search for structure proves far more than simply a self-conscious plot trick – Morales uses the play’s loose and malleable meta structure as a mirror for his characters. Form fits function here, and the play’s self-conscious construction reflects the character’s self-absorption. Morales gives us a world full of possibility, both within the play and through its construction. Daydreams and imagined scenes shift into real time and then back again. This is a wildly unformed world – this is youth.

Naldo isn’t our only guide in this world, but, as our narrator, he is the most trusted. To spice things up, we’re also given two queens: Mallory, Naldo’s roommate in New York (played the captivating and adorable Susan Louise O’Connor), and Benny, Naldo’s flaming flame from Florida (played by the blond boy-bombshell Julian Stetkevych). When Benny shows up at Naldo and Mallory’s door, a love triangle pops up as quickly as a pitched tent, and we’re suddenly thrust into a drama-rific battle of hearts in which even Tori Amos’ "Crucify" becomes a lip-synched threesome.

While the show is consistently strong, some of the characters age more convincingly than others. While Hirschfield’s Naldo is the most believable as a college student, Stetkevych’s Benny isn’t nearly as compelling as a 20-something as he is once he’s evolved into his bitter, wounded adult self. O’Connor, however, gives a great performance throughout – her Mallory seems so true to life that when she reemerges as a thirty-year-old with a bag full of therapeutic drugs, it’s as if she’s ushering in the compromise of a full generation’s dreams.

The most surprising thing about this play, though, isn’t the choreographed Passion, the where-are-they-now Third Act, or even the sporadic demolition of the traditional fourth wall. No, the most shocking part of this show is that it centers on young, na├»ve, over-privileged, sex-obsessed drama students and, here’s the real shocker: the play is still fresh, intelligent and enjoyable. The Silent Concerto takes the most mundane, over-stocked subjects (those poor struggling white upper-middle class students…) and makes them into beautifully tangled, existentially adrift individuals, each heartbreaking in his or her unrealistic will to succeed.

True to the play’s Chekhovian influences, everyone we meet yearns to be the seagull, but at the end of the day (or at the end of Act Three, if you’d prefer), we’re left with a flock of stool pigeons. The Silent Concerto is as much about the limits of age as it is about the possibilities of youth, and while you may not leave the theater uplifted, you will leave it a little wiser.

In essence, this play is the story of Masha’s problem. And, by the end of The Silent Concerto, you finally get it. Masha’s problem is this: she remembers what it was to be Nina and she knows she can never go back.

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14th Street Theater (344 E 14th Street, b/t 1st Ave. & 2nd Ave.)
Tickets (, 212.868.4444): $18.00
Performances: January 25th through February 17th, Mondays and Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm.

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