“Almost A Fantasy”
By Michael Aguirre
Directed by John Grabowski
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
ALMOST A FANTASY
Teaching piano in a windowless basement studio somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania does not preclude having been a world-famous concert pianist earlier in life. Taking piano lessons at seven years old in that windowless basement piano studio does not preclude studying piano for the wrong reasons. It is Youthney’s fantasy that if someone can teach him piano and he has a student recital, his agoraphobic mother might leave their house. This, it turns out, is a wrong reason. Nonetheless, it is Dolores’ fantasy that her new seven-year-old student Youthney becomes an accomplished pianist.
Although Youthney does not play any Beethoven until the end of the play, the three movements of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata (Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27 No. 2)” parallel the movements of Michael Aguirre’s deeply beautiful and important new play “Almost A Fantasy,” currently playing at The Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. It is important to remember, as Dolores reminds Youthney, that the original title of this sonata was “Quasi una fantasia” (Italian: almost a fantasy).
The first movement of “Amost A Fantasy” (the Adagio sostenuto of the Sonata), develops the main melody of the relationship between Dolores and Youthney and then plays it again very similar to how it was originally played. Dolores and Youthney live out their disparate fantasies through a series of piano lessons, rehearsing one another’s stories. Dolores’ (Danijela Popovic) story is well-written with proper key signatures. Youthney’s (AJ Kiehner) story when he first meets Dolores is a blank staff, scarcely a sixteenth note and certainly no key signature. Dolores’ stories of escaping east Berlin and developing a successful career as a concert pianist at first embolden Youthney and encourage him to get in touch with his own (yet undiscovered) story: in particular, why he continues to study with Dolores despite her aggressive and sometimes maniacal methods. She wants her student “to learn” piano; Youthney only wants “to be taught.” There is a profound difference and in this profundity lies the mysterious, almost haunting melody of the first movement.
The second movement, the Allegreto, is (as in the Sonata) is fast-moving and often comedic. As he grows older and more comfortable with Dolores, Youthney becomes more playful and their lessons sparkle with wit and wry humor. However, this movement concludes with a seventeen-year-old Youthney who leaves Dolores as he leaves high school.
The final movement (the Presto agitato) of “Almost A Fantasy” surprises the audience with its hard-hitting, invigorating, and powerful passages (fortissimo) and progresses rapidly to the play’s conclusion and denouement. Youthney returns to Dolores’ studio after many years to find the building in a state of disrepair and Dolores in a similar downward spiral of aging and disability and disappointment. He bristles with new-found energy and proposes that he and Dolores should go on tour. Unfortunately, it is too late for that fantasy to play out. Instead, Youthney offers to play from his “cheap” edition of Beethoven Sonatas: something he had always wished to do. He asks if he can practice first and Dolores reminds him compellingly that “one does not rehearse Beethoven here.”
Under John Grabowski’s sturdy direction, actors Danijela Popovic and AJ Kiehner use their accomplished keyboard skills to bring this dramatic almost-love story to bristling life. Youthney does not become the pianist Dolores hopes he would: his interest in piano ceased when he no longer needed to perform his mother’s way out of her dysfunction and illness. And Dolores, disappointed in Youthney and, perhaps in herself, quietly listens to Youthney play the “Moonlight Sonata” bringing into remarkable counterpoint the “almost fantasies” of these two star-crossed musicians. At the lights fade, there were few dry eyes in the audience including the tear-filled eyes of this appreciative critic. There are only three more opportunities to allow yourself to risk playing your almost fantasies in the basement studio with one amazing (though sometimes terrifying) teacher and mentor and her almost-star pupil.
Presented by Chelsea Rep Lab in Association with The Acting Studio, Inc. and The New York International Fringe Festival. Written by Michael Aguirre. Directed by John Grabowski. Set Design by Oliver Sohngen. Lighting Design by Zach Ciaburri. Costume Design by Alison Parks and Corrie Blissit. Stage Management by Julie Greeneisen.
WITH: AJ Kiehner (Youthney) and Danijela Popovic (Dolores).
All performances take place at The Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor (Astor Place and East 4th Street) in New York, NY. Tickets are available at www.fringenyc.org or 866-468-7619. $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Senior and Fringe Junior tickets available at the door for $10. Running time: 1 hour and 25 minutes with no intermission. For further information, visit: www.almostafantasy.net
Remaining Show Date:
Thursday, August 23rd @ 3pm