The Piano Teacher

Drastically streamlined or even retooled as a monologue, Julia Cho's downbeat drama about a retired music teacher who reaches out to her old pupils in an attempt to find out why they deserted her might get auds thinking about the fantasies people spin to keep hard truths at bay.

With:
Mrs. K - Elizabeth Franz Mary Fields - Carmen M. Herlihy Michael - John Boyd

 Drastically streamlined or even retooled as a monologue, Julia Cho’s downbeat drama about a retired music teacher who reaches out to her old pupils in an attempt to find out why they deserted her might get auds thinking about the fantasies people spin to keep hard truths at bay. But the single thoughtfully dramatic moment in “The Piano Teacher” comes so late in the game — and so far out of left field — that it causes more confusion than clarification about its high-minded theme about the moral blindness of a self-deluded society.

Were it not for a riveting perf from Elizabeth Franz and a brief but electrically sparked appearance from debuting thesp John Boyd, this arty exercise (commissioned and first produced by South Coast Rep) might be written off for sheer self-indulgence. While neither can save it, Franz makes it watchable and Boyd makes it almost exciting.

As Mrs. K, the once-beloved piano teacher of countless schoolchildren who have long forgotten she ever existed, Franz projects the eerie radiance of someone half out of her mind with loneliness. Rattling around in her gloomy tomb of a living room (Derek McLane) and in the drab duds (Ilona Somogyi) and Alice-in-Wonderland hairdo (Charles G. LaPointe) of someone who hasn’t looked a clock in the face for years, the pitiful old thing nibbles on cookies and natters on about nothing.

Being totally cut off from the world, this eccentric recluse has no conversation and no context to her life. But for 36 years, she did have a husband, the long-deceased Mr. K, and she speaks of him often, fondly recalling his love of Shakespeare and his skill at crossword puzzles. And when she finally makes contact with one former pupil named Mary Fields (sweetly played by Carmen M. Herlihy), she fairly begs this kindly soul to say something nice about the old boy.

After such a long, drawn-out, endlessly repetitive buildup, the audience would be delighted to hear Mary reveal that mild-mannered Mr. K. was a pedophile, if not a vampire or ax-murderer. But no such luck.

It’s not until a mysterious young man named Michael (Boyd) visits the house, very late in the proceedings, that scribe gets to the point — which, of course, cannot be revealed here because it resolves the mystery of why Mrs. K. gets so anxious whenever something less than flattering is said about Mr. K. 

The frustrating thing about this revelation is that it is, indeed, quite interesting — and suggestive of all sorts of scenes that might have been written to develop it dramatically, had Cho been so inclined.

But while the scribe has provocative ideas and impressive skills at writing intelligent dialogue, here she seems to have no feel for drama, and helmer Kate Whoriskey can’t disguise this. Speeches drone on until they drop off. Scenes play themselves out without leading inexorably to the scenes that follow. And just when she manages to write an exciting exchange between characters, wouldn’t you know it — the play’s over.

The Piano Teacher

Vineyard Theater; 125 seats; $55 top

Production: A Vineyard Theater presentation of a play in one act by Julia Cho. Directed by Kate Whoriskey.

Creative: Set, Derek McLane; costumes, Ilona Somogyi; lighting, David Weiner; original music and sound, Obadiah Eaves; wigs, Charles G. LaPointe; production stage manager, Bryce McDonald. Opened Nov. 18, 2007. Reviewed Nov. 15. Running time: 1 HOUR, 25 MIN

Cast: Mrs. K - Elizabeth Franz Mary Fields - Carmen M. Herlihy Michael - John Boyd

More Legit

  • Skintight review

    Off Broadway Review: ‘Skintight’ With Idina Menzel

     Drastically streamlined or even retooled as a monologue, Julia Cho’s downbeat drama about a retired music teacher who reaches out to her old pupils in an attempt to find out why they deserted her might get auds thinking about the fantasies people spin to keep hard truths at bay. But the single thoughtfully dramatic moment […]

  • Sugar in Our Wounds

    Off Broadway Review: ‘Sugar in Our Wounds’

     Drastically streamlined or even retooled as a monologue, Julia Cho’s downbeat drama about a retired music teacher who reaches out to her old pupils in an attempt to find out why they deserted her might get auds thinking about the fantasies people spin to keep hard truths at bay. But the single thoughtfully dramatic moment […]

  • SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY

    Bruce Springsteen Condemns Trump's 'Inhumane' Border Policy During Broadway Show

     Drastically streamlined or even retooled as a monologue, Julia Cho’s downbeat drama about a retired music teacher who reaches out to her old pupils in an attempt to find out why they deserted her might get auds thinking about the fantasies people spin to keep hard truths at bay. But the single thoughtfully dramatic moment […]

  • Kenya Barris and Pharrell Williams

    Kenya Barris, Pharrell Williams to Collaborate on Juneteenth Stage Musical

     Drastically streamlined or even retooled as a monologue, Julia Cho’s downbeat drama about a retired music teacher who reaches out to her old pupils in an attempt to find out why they deserted her might get auds thinking about the fantasies people spin to keep hard truths at bay. But the single thoughtfully dramatic moment […]

  • BD Wong

    Stagecraft Podcast: BD Wong Talks Basketball in Beijing, Dinosaurs and Batman

     Drastically streamlined or even retooled as a monologue, Julia Cho’s downbeat drama about a retired music teacher who reaches out to her old pupils in an attempt to find out why they deserted her might get auds thinking about the fantasies people spin to keep hard truths at bay. But the single thoughtfully dramatic moment […]

  • Michael Jackson Musical Coming to Broadway

    Michael Jackson Musical Coming to Broadway in 2020

     Drastically streamlined or even retooled as a monologue, Julia Cho’s downbeat drama about a retired music teacher who reaches out to her old pupils in an attempt to find out why they deserted her might get auds thinking about the fantasies people spin to keep hard truths at bay. But the single thoughtfully dramatic moment […]

  • Watch Tom Hanks Vamp on Stage

    Watch Tom Hanks Vamp on Stage to Calm His 'Henry IV' Audience

     Drastically streamlined or even retooled as a monologue, Julia Cho’s downbeat drama about a retired music teacher who reaches out to her old pupils in an attempt to find out why they deserted her might get auds thinking about the fantasies people spin to keep hard truths at bay. But the single thoughtfully dramatic moment […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content