|L-R: Peter Bradbury, Robert LuPone and Kevin Isola in THE VIOLIN. Photo by Carol Rosegg.|
The Violin by Dan McCormick, currently enjoying its world premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan, is an immensely entertaining modern fairy tale set in the pre-gentrified Lower East Side. All of the ingredients are there (albeit in somewhat mysterious or disguised form – omens and harbingers, departed souls, severed limbs, strange occurrences, secret passages, lucky discoveries, and, ultimately, happily-ever-aftering).
And so, when Terry (Devin Isola), who is mildly retarded (euphemistically described by his mother as “her special child”) lost both his parents in a flash he readily accepted the assurances of his older brother, Bobby (Peter Bradbury), a petty thief who survives by burglarizing stores and stealing cars but who is utterly devoted to Terry, that they had not really died but simply had been called to Heaven to be with God and that they might even return one day. When Terry’s palms begin to itch, he takes it as an omen that money is about to come his way and, sure enough, while he finds no Aladdin’s Lamp nor Philosopher’s Stone nor even a winning lottery ticket, he does find a violin – a Stradivarius, no less – left in his gypsy cab. Terry does not realize the violin’s worth nor how it may change their lives, but Bobby quickly does and hatches a plot to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars in reward money from its rightful owner for its return.
To that end, Bobby enlists the assistance of Gio (Robert LuPone), a skilled tailor (doesn’t every good fairy tale require a skilled tailor?) who is “legendary” in his neighborhood (or at least believes himself to be). But the fact is that Gio’s father not only taught Gio the trade but also imbued him with morals and integrita, which leads Gio to be deeply conflicted over the entire affair.
Meanwhile, the mysteries (all of which are, in fact, resolved by play’s end) pile up. What actually did happen to Bobby and Terry’s parents? Why did Gio never marry, what was his relationship to Bobby and Terry’s parents, and why has he always been something of a father figure to both men? Why does Gio only sit facing the door, as did his father before him? And what, if anything, does the clutter in his shop conceal? Is there any significance to the boot Bobby stumbled over on 14th Street – the one with the severed foot still in it? And, of course, how will the violin caper turn out?
Robert LuPone is dispassionately cool as Gio, gradually providing us with most of the answers to our questions as he peels away the layers of his, Bobby’s and Terry’s lives. Kevin Isola is mischievously charming as Terry (although he appears to be much less intellectually challenged and much more socially unaware than his description as “retarded” or “special” would have led us to believe; it is difficult, for example, to accept his expressing his having experienced an “epiphany” as he does - but that is not meant as a criticism of Isola; he played the role as it was written and did a fine job at that).
Best of all, however, is Peter Bradbury who provides an exceptionally rich portrayal of Bobby – a small time amoral hood who, at one and the same time, is fully committed to caring for his younger brother, despite being frequently and openly exasperated by him. It is a complex role to play and Bradbury succeeds brilliantly.