Fugue by Tommy Smith
I was first introduced to the notion of a fugue in a creative theatre workshop led by The Company Theatre artistic director Steven Kent. The Geographical Fugue. “Trinidad!” It was created as a spoken classical piece for voices by Ernst Toch, an early twentieth century German composer. A fugue is defined (thank goodness for the internet) as “a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase (the subject) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts.” A secondary definition in psychiatry goes like this: “a state or period of loss of awareness of one's identity, often coupled with flight from one's usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy.”
Playwright Tommy Smith’s Fugue currently playing at the Echo Theater Company at the Atwater Village Theatre touches on both of these definitions as the stories of three classical music composers unfold. Two of the composers I’d heard of, Piotr Tchaikovsky and Arnold Schoenberg. The third was new to me, the early 17th century Italian composer, Carlo Gesualdo. The composers’ lives intertwine. The theme of madness of one sort or another emerges. It’s fascinating.
The beauty of this play is that these Echo actors and director, Chris Fields, have all agreed to come together and explore not only the words, but the subtle idea that creative individuals, in some cases, have elements of craziness that influence their flights of genius. Director Fields weaves his players and their stories flawlessly.
We open on a clean black stage with red draperies by Amanda Knehans, that serve as three playing areas spanning hundreds of years of time. Mathilde Schoenberg (Amanda Lovejoy Street) stands examining a painting while Richard Gerstl (Jesse Fair) sidles up behind her. In moments, he announces that he is in love with her! He introduces himself as the creator of the painting. The subject is her husband, Arnold Schoenberg (Troy Blendell)! Richard pursues Mrs. Schoenberg and the story of the composer and his classical music evolves along with the issues of infidelity and friendship. It does not end well.
Concurrently, in the late 1800s, we meet Russian composer Piotr Tchaikovsky (Christopher Shaw), who has charmed his lovely student Antonina (Alana Dietze), whom he eventually marries. However, his true love is his nephew, Bob (Eric Keitel), so called because Americans could not pronounce Vladimir, his Russian name. The pressures of Czar Nicholas and the repressive times combine with fear of discovery and evolve to lead us to another story. It does not end well.
Finally, intertwined with the previous two stories, the third weaves in musical ebbs and flows beautifully. We arrive in early 17th Century Italy to discover composer Prince Carlo Gesualdo (Karl Helinger), who is clearly detached from reality. He wields his jealousy and ultimate power with a dagger that initially his wife, Princess Donna Maria (Jeanne Syquia), uses to fulfill his erotic pleasure. (Christian Grey could take some lessons from this guy!) Ultimately, he puts the dagger to use to commit murder when he discovers the Duke Fabrizio (Justin Huen) tupping his fair princess.
The ‘music’ of FUGUE supports each story as the composers are challenged by their particular times and the travails of nature, to where we arrive at three unhappy endings. It all makes complete sense, if you subscribe to the notion that to create a masterpiece, one must have, at least, a little madness within. Nietzsche was once quoted as having said, "One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star." The chaos in each of these composers is, at once, beautiful and horrible.
In two acts, this is not for those who want all of the work done for them. Finding the subtle grace notes and the passion of the piece is available through excellent performances in a simple empty space. Appropriate lighting and sound by Matt Richter and Drew Dalzell create the scene. Outstanding and very, very impressive costumes by Michael Mullen are flawless. These stories must roll around a bit to be fully appreciated. Seeing this play will give the theatregoer ample food for thought. An excellent production. It is provocative and dramatic. Good job.
FUGUE by Tommy Smith
Echo Theater Company at the Atwater
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 7PM
Through March 22, 2015
Tickets and information
310 307 3753
310 307 3753