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THEATER REVIEW Belladonna Luna Sonata
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2015-11-11

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Playwright: Robert Stewart. At: The Plagiarists at the Frontier, 1106 W. Thorndale Ave. Tickets: 773-599-9490; www.theplagiarists.org; $15. Runs through: Nov. 21

Precisely one hundred years ago, Alexander Scriabin died, along with the notoriety afforded him as an adherent of the Symbolist art movement. A musical prodigy, he based his melodic theories in synesthesia—the cross-sensory linking of sounds and colors—coupled with theosophical spiritualism. His unfinished magnum opus, titled "Mysterium," was conceived as an interactive orchestral piece to be played at the foot of the Himalayan mountains and featuring, as its encore, the Rapture-like destruction of the entire world.

This controversial genius constitutes the most likely prototype for Maestro Signeretti, the self-styled hero of Robert Stewart's play, whose fame rests on his incorporation of spontaneous phenomena into his concerts. "Hurling Coloratura," for example, called for a stone to be catapulted into the audience, the random target's cry of pain then serving to enhance the harmony. One night, the projectile strikes a young woman who consents to continue in her concussive role, and later, to be his wife. After repeated head injuries force her retirement, her husband's requiem, the "Wilted Gilded Glissando Sonata" leads to his courtship and subsequent rejection by a wealthy socialite. This rebuff spurs him to embark on "Belladonna Luna Sonata"—a composition whose premiere performance in the Swiss Alps upon an organ built into the rock face is meant to trigger subterranean tremors precipitating widespread cataclysm leaving the earth blissfully purified of all living creatures.

Signeretti relates these events from the sanctuary of his studio, where he broods over the never-identified saboteur of his Armageddon. His retreat's location is unclear, since the view through the picture-window reveals a variety of scenery veering between subarctic foliage and tropical jungles. Likewise disorienting is our raconteur's displaying oversized prosthetic ears and likewise exaggerated eyebrows and beard modeled on the elvish king of German folklore, while his valet's Nordic-complexion exhibits African facial scars and the gardener chosen to hear these memoirs recalls the Norwegian boy-trickster Peer Gynt.

Playgoers may find themselves recalling also Beckett, Ionesco, the dark humor of Brother Theodore ( "I began my life at an early age" ) and the Dadaist aesthetic reflected in "eavesdropping equipment" fashioned from a stethoscope and plastic cup, or a stick-puppet toucan sent to annoy trespassers. Whether we comprehend Stewart's purpose at first sight, however, is less important to the success of this Plagiarists production than the comforting assurance that its ensemble, led by Nick Freed as the obsessed Signeretti, appears to know their way around its iconographic enigma. In a universe where music can be turned into WMDs, faith in one's guides is essential.


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