The Silent Concerto
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 29, 2007
I'm afraid I'm too old to empathize with the dilemmas of the characters in Alejandro Morales's The Silent Concerto. The play concerns a young man named Naldo and his complicated relationship with Mallory, a young woman with whom he goes to college (NYU) and shares an apartment, and Benny, his best friend from back home (Miami) with whom he is—possibly unrequitedly—in love. The first half of the piece depicts the hectic few days when these two most important people in Naldo's life meet and collide. After a short interlude, the final part revisits the characters ten years later, when we come to understand that stuff that meant everything to Naldo may have meant much less to Mallory and Benny. It's wistful but not especially profound: Naldo's only 30 when the play ends, and one can only hope that his life is only just beginning, rather than shutting down the way he imagines. Which is easy for me, at 45, to say: people closer in age and experience to Naldo and his confreres may have less trouble finding the significance in this drama.
A program note tells us that The Silent Concerto is influenced by two famous playwrights: Noel Coward (via, principally, Design for Living, the setup of which is more or less duplicated here, though not in a way that feels organic), and Anton Chekhov (via The Seagull: Naldo's an aspiring but permanently discouraged playwright a la Constantine, while Mallory wants to be an actress, dreaming of playing, among other great roles, Nina). The juxtaposition of Chekhovian heaviness—all that constant, detailed fretting about every unfulfilled moment—with gossamer Cowardesque banter feels very imposed on the piece, and contributes to a lack of a unified style. In particular, the notion that three college kids in 1994 (one of whom has just arrived from Miami) would fancy themselves to be latter-day Elyots and Amandas, elegantly sipping drinks and trading insults, seems unlikely at best: surely these people would have more contemporary models, from plays or films or TV shows they've actually seen.
I was conscious of Morales trying very hard to stretch his playwriting muscles throughout, which is not necessarily a bad thing except when it shows, as it often does here. The middle "movement," which takes place after the threesome have finished school and are making their tentative first steps into adulthood, is especially problematic: Morales has written it as a long series of direct-address speeches to be delivered by the characters to the audience, side-by-side. It feels like the prose that it is instead of dialogue, and unfortunately director Scott Ebersold hasn't come up with a way to make it theatrical.
The rest of the play shows off Ebersold's talent more solidly. The design is consistently interesting, especially Nicholas Vaughan's spare but effective set and Douglas Filomena's spot-on lighting. The performances are less consistent. As usual, Susan Louise O'Connor is outstanding, here mining Mallory's insecurities and anxieties for everything they're worth and making her someone we care for and about, deeply. Her co-stars are far less assured: Drew Hirshfield shows us Naldo's gawkiness and desperation but not much of what's behind that, while Julian Stetkeych is all surface as the shallow Benny; for us to understand these two young men, we need to know much more about their motivations than what's communicated here. There's also an unfortunate paucity of chemistry between these two actors. And all three come across as much older than 20 in the first act; I actually hadn't realized that they were still in college until that information was clarified late in the final scene.
The Silent Concerto definitely evidences talent on the part of its playwright and director, but in the end, at least from the point of view of this admitted fogey-in-training, the conflicts here feel more like molehills than mountains.