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Almost A Fantasy review by Julie Congress
August 14, 2012

Almost a Fantasy is a study, an etude if you will, on music, education and aspirations.  It chronicles the relationship between a young man, Youthney, and his piano teacher Dolores.  Music terminology and ideas are used to draw correlations to, and insights into, life.  While the play ultimately does not dig as deep as it could, it has some beautiful moments and some absolutely marvelous piano playing.

Youthney is seven years old and it is his first piano lesson. Dolores is quite the character – elegant and intimidating, her demeanor darting instantly back and forth between graceful and terrorizing. A German immigrant who grew-up in East Berlin, she had an exceedingly promising career. Now she teaches classes to children, who, one-by-one, drop out of her lessons (signified by the polaroid of each of them she removes from her cork board and drops into the waste basket as each boy or girl leaves her). Youthney is quiet and shy and doesn’t particularly want to be there, a more polar opposite to Dolores you could not find. Almost a Fantasy chronicles ten years of lessons, showing us what each of them learns from the other – about music and life.

Danijela Popovic is dynamic and powerful as Dolores. She exudes a charisma that perfectly matches her fiery character and is an exceptional pianist. She is overtly theatrical – every r is rolled, every gesture grandiose – but it rather works for the part. AJ Kiehner is exceedingly earnest and well-meaning as Youthney, but lacks some of the variation and realism that are needed to ground the story. Director John Grabowski moves the story fluidly through its episodes (each representing a lesson) but at times the direction could be handled more subtly (particularly when Dolores ages). But the absolutely amazing element, in this FringeNYC production, is Oliver Sohngen’s set – two walls (thick enough for Dolores to hammer a nail in one) and a raked criss-crossing of metal, to represent the ceiling, create Dolores’s studio.

Michael Aguirre’s play is compelling and his knowledge and appreciation of music is clear. But I yearned for Almost a Fantasy to rise to the next level – the characters’ backgrounds and observations seemed at times too facile. Just as nearly every piece of music used in the play (from Moonlight Sonata to Imagine to Clair de Lune) is well known and recognizable, so is much of the story (the son dealing with a depressed mother, the star who puts herself first, etc.). While I felt thoroughly engaged in Almost a Fantasy, I never felt surprised. Aguirre is clearly very talented and I hope that he and his able, professional team will continue working on it – Almost a Fantasy is so full of potential, knowledge and passion, now it just needs a bit of nuance to move it to a virtuoso place.