And as it proceeds to unfold, delivering one powerful punch and surprise after another, The Violin does not disappoint. Imagine seeing American Buffalo–one of David Mamet’s finest plays–for the first time. But given allusions to an amputated foot and other atrocities in The Violin, you’re more apt to think of gory plays by Martin McDonagh than David Mamet, and that’s equally appropriate–they’re both, at their best, great storytellers.
In fact, Harry Feiner’s marvelous, you-are-there set design for The Violin made me think of American Buffalo (set in a shabby pawn shop) before the first words of the play were even uttered or its three cast-members (Robert LuPone, Peter Bradbury and Kevin Isola) even appeared on the stage. But whether or not playwright McCormick had that early Mamet work in mind, the main idea behind The Violin was probably inspired by a real event, when celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma left his prized cello in the trunk of a New York taxi some years ago, and paid a handsome reward for its return.
Set on a cold winter’s night in Gio’s tailor’s shop in the East Village, the taxi driver in The Violin is named Terry, and the eponymous item he finds in the back-seat of his cab proves to be a 1710 Stradivarius, valued at four-million dollars. His older brother Bobby has been looking after Terry ever since their parents died, when Terry was quite young. Bobby has kept from Terry that their parents were murdered by the Irish Mafia, with whom their father was in cahoots. By the end of the play, even Bobby learns more about their parents’ death than he knew.
Keep your eye on Gio, short for Giovanni, who had more to do with Bobby and Terry’s parents’ death than one might imagine. It’s also Gio who, during the play, tries to keep Bobby in tow, preventing him from pummeling Terry at various points. But despite the ongoing antipathy between the brothers, the deep-seated love and concern between Bobby and Terry is brought to palpable life by, respectively Bradbury and Isola. (When Bobby isn’t chasing Terry around with a pair of scissors, threatening to stab him, he’s embracing him and giving him a kiss on the top of his head.)
Their magnificent performances–at once combatant and then affectionate–are matched by the estimable Robert LuPone as a domineering Gio, who, in the end, might as well have been their father after all. And that’s another story, which eventually gets told, but won’t be divulged here.
Like the script, the play has been directed with a razor-sharp precision and gritty realism by Joseph Discher. Even costumer Michael McDonald contributes to the play’s impact by putting Bobby in a gray, hole-ridden, hooded sweatshirt jacket.
The Violin (through October 14, 2017)
The Directors Company in association with Shadowcatcher Entertainment
59E59 Theater, Theater A, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission