Caper movies are usually a lot of fun: Ocean’s 11 (the original Rat Pack version, 1960), Topkapi (1964, arguably one of the greatest of the genre), The Thomas Crown Affair (with Steve McQueen, 1968), The Italian Job (the Michael Caine original, 1969 – with Noël Coward), The Sting (Paul Newman and Robert Redford together again, 1973), Heat (Robert De Niro teamed with Al Pacino, 1995). The list goes on. (Even television got into the act with series like Hustle, a British series that featured Robert Vaughn and aired in the U.S. on AMC from 2004 to 2012, and TNT’s Leverage with Timothy Hutton, 2008–2012.) The caper play, on the other hand, hasn’t seemed to catch on; David Mamet’s American Buffalo (1975) is the only attempt that comes to mind.
Until now, that is. My frequent theater companion, Diana, had a hankering to have a look at Dan McCormick’s The Violin, a world première that played at the 59E59 Theaters this fall. Despite the New York Times review that came out right after Diana and I discussed catching the show (Show-Score gave Alexis Soloski’s notice a negative rating of 45), my friend decided to go ahead and see it anyway. So at 8 p.m. on Friday, 13 November 2017, we met at the theater complex in mid-town on the East Side for the penultimate performance of McCormick’s tale of a would-be crime that didn’t quite work out. You might call it The Sting That Goes Wrong.
According to his own account, McCormick, also a singer-songwriter who trained originally as an actor, began working on The Violin “many years” ago and saw it through “several table readings and staged readings.” The playwright asserts he wrote the first draft in “perhaps only a few months at most,” based principally on inspiration. He practices what sounds to me like a form of freewriting or focused freewriting, letting the ideas flow randomly until “suddenly something takes hold.” Even then, “often times I don’t know what the story is about or who characters may be, until many pages into” the draft, McCormick says. Sooner or later, he has “an ‘Ah ha’ moment” when he understands what the play’s about and who the characters are. After that, the playwright goes back and revises the draft “so as to make what I just discovered make sense.”
A two-act play, the final version of The Violin started previews in 59E59’s Theater A, the complex’s 196-seat proscenium house, on 7 September and opened on 19 September; the production closed on 14 October. The world première, under the direction of Joseph Discher, is a production of The Directors Company in association with ShadowCatcher Entertainment.
The Directors Company (Michael Parva, Artistic/Producing Director), formerly known as Staret . . . The Directors Company (and not to be confused with the short-lived Hollywood production company formed by Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and William Friedkin in the 1970s that went by the same name), was founded in 1980 and is a not-for-profit theater company that claims as its mission the development and production of “groundbreaking new plays and musicals.” Composed of three divisions—mainstage division, the production arm of the company; development division; and S. T. A. R. (for Serving Teens through Arts Resources), an educational outreach program, TDC fosters the development and production of theatre artists and their work. Recent Off-Broadway work includes Irena’s Vow by Dan Gordon (Baruch Performing Arts Center, 2008), Poetic License by Jack Canfora (59E59, 2012), Walter Anderson’s Almost Home (Acorn Theater, 2014), On a Stool at the End of the Bar by Robert Callely (59E59, 2014), Gordon’s Terms of Endearment (59E59, 2016), and A Better Place by Wendy Beckett (The Duke on 42nd Street, 2016).
ShadowCatcher Entertainment (David Skinner, Executive Producer) develops, produces, and invests in live stage productions and television programming. The company—which produced its first film in 1997 (Smoke Signals), invested in its first Broadway show (Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune) in 2002, and that same year became associate producer of two successful Off-Broadway shows, Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical and Tuesdays with Morrie—collaborates with the creative community in the telling of diverse stories to a universal audience. ShadowCatcher was a producer on three recent Tony-winners (Memphis, 2009-12; Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, 2013; A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, 2013-16) and has invested in other successful shows (Dear Evan Hansen, 2016-present; Come From Away, 2017; You Can’t Take It With You, 2014-15)
In Giovanni’s Tailor Shop on Avenue A in Manhattan’s “Alphabet City”—the far East Village, Gio (Robert LuPone, in his first stage appearance in 14 years), 70-ish, works hunched over his sewing machine till his fingers bleed—literally, since he keeps sticking his thumb with his needles. Outside, it’s the dead of winter, “present day February,” in the middle of the evening. Gio’s worked in the same shop since he took it over from his father—who moved the several blocks north from Little Italy when he ran afoul of the mafia. Gio’s losing his sight and his hearing and he suffers from an endless catalogue of maladies borne of a life spent working until it’s just passed him by. Gio (pronounced Geo, like the defunct Chevvy of the ’90s, not Joe, like an Italian would say) no longer even hears his phone ring of customers knocking at the door.
Gio’s only companions are brothers Bobby (Peter Bradbury) and Terry (Kevin Isola), a couple of 20- to 40-somethings (it’s hard to tell; they’re emotional age is arrested adolescence, though) who practically grew up in the shop. Bobby, the elder, is a wannabe gangster and petty thief who’s looked after his brother since their parents were both murdered by the Irish mob when the boys were still kids; Terry’s “special,” as his mother used to tell him—meaning he’s mentally disabled—an innocent. Gio’s been a surrogate father since the young men’s parents died and he seems to act as the voice of reason and wisdom whenever they go off the rails—especially the rash and impulsive Bobby.
Bobby, who gets frustrated and angry with his brain-damaged brother often, has gotten Terry a gig driving a gypsy cab—but Terry’s just quit the job. He’s left the cab on the street, but he took a souvenir: a violin left by his last fare. (The fiddle is a McGuffin. It’s introduced early in the first act, but mostly just gets moved around and handled until late in the act when it magically transforms into the prime-mover of the plot.) When Bobby takes the car back to the garage, he finds flyers all over the place identifying the instrument as a 1710 Stradivarius and that the owner is offering a reward for its return. A little research reveals that the Strad is worth four million dollars, so Bobby decides to ransom it back to the musician for 10 percent of its value. “That’s $4,000!” shouts Terry. No, Bobby corrects him, it’s $400,000! They’re gonna be rich! Gio, meanwhile, has said nothing.
The get-rich-quick scheme begins to unfold, and Gio soon inexplicably deals himself in, but only if he can be the boss and have the final word on all disputes. Bobby and Terry agree and they start making elaborate plans. Given the characters McCormick’s gone to such lengths to lay out—and the obvious fact that there wouldn’t be a play otherwise—you just know this is all going to fall apart, almost certainly disastrously. The Violin ran two hours at 59E59, and it took all of act one’s full hour to get this far with an abundance of character-revealing arguments and bickering—even before the violin boondoggle comes up—as McCormick stuffs it to the gunnels with exposition and background (and there’s still more to come!).
Act two covers most of the actual deed, which is all negotiated over the phone (so, more talk). Gio turns out to be less competent at this than he made out and Bobby takes over despite his demonstrated lack of self-control and his hair-trigger temper. It’s so obvious that the plan—a misnomer, really, considering that this is the gang than can’t think straight—is headed for all kinds of disaster. As David Barbour wrote on Lighting & Sound America: “An act of grand larceny, committed by three neophytes, requiring intensive phone negotiations—what could possibly go wrong?”) The only question is how many goofs and screw-ups and how bad. (The play doesn’t set up like a potential tragedy of errors—the guys are too lightweight for that heavy an outcome—so I ruled out murder and mayhem. But anything else was viable possibility.) As the caper comes together (so to speak) and the boys voice their dreams of a life in the money, all kinds of secrets are revealed and hidden truths are told. (I won’t catalogue them here because though they’re hardly surprises—the most significant ones had been telegraphed since act one—they’re the only feints at suspense in this would-be crime drama.)
All I’ll say about the end of The Violin is that it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion. Gio, who made one uncharacteristic shift in act one, suddenly returns to his role as guardian and protector of the younger men and saves them from the fate they probably should have suffered some time ago—but we have no sense of what will become of them after the (figurative) curtain comes down. The theater’s promo for the play says it’s about “loyalty and family ties,” but I question that this is treated with any degree of rectitude. I suppose you could say The Violin is a depiction of how not to make a family and exercise loyalty. Aside from that, I can’t say what McCormick wants us to take away. (In an interview with McCormick, the writer never mentions what he intended the play to be about.)
Playwright McCormick, who appears to be in his late 40’s (his birth year isn’t listed anywhere), was born in Philadelphia and grew up just outside the city. He graduated in 1990 from Philadelphia’s Drexel University with a business degree before moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting; studying first at the Stella Adler Studio in L.A. and later with the A.R.T./MXAT Institute for Advanced Theater Training in Cambridge, Massachusetts (a branch of the Moscow Art Theater School at Harvard University’s American Repertory Theater). McCormick is a member of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and Actors Equity Association (AEA).
McCormick’s actor training inspired an interest in writing, which ultimately brought him to New York City, where he currently lives. He’s a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, the stage writers’ professional association, and the Actors Studio Playwright/Director’s Unit and Workshop in New York (where The Violin was workshopped). He’s lectured and taught playwriting and acting on both the college and high school levels. Upon writing his first novel, The Return of Devin Darby, which is currently awaiting publication, McCormick began studying piano while writing the book and lyrics for his first musical, The Myth of Dreams, which received two staged readings in New York City and Asbury Park, New Jersey, in 2013, directed by the playwright.
Since singing with his brothers in karaoke bars in Philadelphia, McCormick says he discovered his voice again as the singer-songwriter of Broadway Lights, his 2011 début album. As a composer and lyricist, McCormick’s a member of ASCAP and has subsequently written the lyrics for over one hundred rock, pop, country, and folk songs.
The playwright is also a member of the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. His plays The Violin and Homeless and How We Got That Way received staged readings at the theater in, respectively, December 2012 and June 2014. Joseph Discher, who staged The Violin at 59E59, previously directed the première of Butler at NJ Rep, in June-July 2014, another play that Diana and I saw at 59E59 (see my report on 3 August 2016).
I found my mind wandering often over the two hours of the performance, even though the acting was fairly good. McCormick’s dialogue is mostly credible and often catchy, but the characters and plot (except for one or two elements) are predictable. It’s territory that’s been mined before. Diana argued (quite vehemently, in fact) that the playwright was revealing things about human nature and behavior, but I don’t believe he is; it’s not revelatory since it’s not at all new—or even a new angle or presentation. The first act is about an hour, and I started to get fanny fatigue before the end, shifting around in my seat to keep from going numb. (Act two was a little shorter, about 45 minutes—there’s a 15-minute intermission—but I started to have the same problem before it ended.)
The Violin is a throwback: an old-fashioned naturalistic well-made play. Diana kept comparing it to Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller—though I disputed that playwright McCormick belongs in that company. (Certainly McCormick’s writing has none of Williams’s lyricism and poetry either older writer’s depth.) The writer of whose work The Violin most reminds me is David Mamet, especially American Buffalo—minus the obscenities; perhaps McCormick aspires in that direction. Diana liked the play, and I told her that that didn’t surprise me at all since it has two attributes that are common to plays she likes: it’s old-fashioned in structure and style and it’s talky. Almost nothing happens on stage so the three characters spend almost two hours talking. The “action” is all off stage (or in the backstory).
One writer, Alix Cohen of the website Woman Around Town, invoked the term “kitchen-sink drama” for The Violin. Wikipedia defines this dramatic style as “a British cultural movement that developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s in theatre, art, novels, film and television plays, whose protagonists usually could be described as ‘angry young men’ who were disillusioned with modern society.” (One fitting example is John Osborne’s 1956 Look Back in Anger.) Cohen did note that Terry and Bobby are hardly even working class, but wondered if the playwright wasn’t reaching for that theater form. The comparison isn’t far off, I’d say. Wikipedia goes on to describe the genre as using “a style of social realism, which depicted the domestic situations of working class” characters in “cramped” quarters, which certainly aligns with McCormick’s play. What The Violin is missing, though, is any mention of the social and political issues on which kitchen-sink plays focused.
The Violin isn’t badly written in terms of the dialogue; McCormick obviously has an ear for speech. But there’s something vital missing. McCormick doesn’t really have a point. He has characters, an environment, and a situation—he even has a backstory. But what he doesn’t have is a reason for any of this to be on stage. There’s no center to The Violin, just a lot of peripheral detail. A real lot, most of it in the first act, which is overstuffed with information, leaving little for the second act except to get on with the doomed ransom scheme. Oh, the author drops in a few reveals which are supposed to be shockers, but those that I hadn’t already guessed were so ham-handedly disclosed that their dramatic value was erased.
There are also a couple of sudden plot and character shifts that seem to have come out of left field—just to make the story proceed. Gio all of a sudden does things that seem out of the character McCormick had written—and then, in the climax, switches back. He could justify these switches—they aren’t quite out of nowhere altogether—but it would take a lot more talk to close the logic gap. As it is, there’s a lot of exposition just to explain why Gio lets Bobby and Terry hang out at his place. So we either have to take a leap of faith on McCormick’s say-so, or do a lot of inner script-doctoring to fill in the missing connectives.
The actors are pretty good, but I found the characters mostly pat—not quite clichés, but types we’ve seen on films and on TV since at least the ’50s. (Would you believe that Gio listens to Italian opera on vinyl I his shop. Where’ve we head that before?) Diana disagreed, insisting that these weren’t people we’d know as neighbors—which I insist is irrelevant anyway. (To prove her point, at intermission she asked the young couple next to us if they knew people like McCormick’s characters. I tried to nudge her because this pair had very pronounced accents, but Diana said she hadn’t noticed that. They didn’t know anyone like these guys, of course, because it turned out our neighbors were from Argentina, though they live in New York City now, so she had ended up asking two foreigners if they knew anyone like this trio of stereotypical American—and New York—types! Not really the corroboration she was looking for!)
LuPone, a Broadway vet (he was the original Zach in A Chorus Line starting in 1975 with its New York Shakespeare Festival début) and co-artistic director of MCC Theater (formerly the Manhattan Class Company), managed to be credible between character shifts, but Gio’s such a stereotype that he can’t generate much traction. In the play, Gio’s placid life is upended by the impulsive Bobby and the damaged Terry—but LuPone displays very little inner turmoil, as if the old tailor had been dealing with this kind of tumult all his life.
The brothers are also such recognizable types that their very presence in the story telegraphs the direction the plot will go in. What’s a hotheaded petty crook going to do? He’ll devise a half-baked scheme (Bobby’s evidently seen many of those flicks I listed at the top of this report) and get . . . well, hotheaded. Bradbury’s not unconvincing as Bobby—he played the volatility believably—but he had nowhere to go that isn’t predetermined by his near-cliché of a character and the stock situation McCormick provides. Isola’s Terry was sweet, but that only gets a character so far, and it’s no surprise that he ends up where he does. Like Bradbury, Isola nailed his character’s behavior and demeanor—but again, there’s nothing he did or McCormick supplies him that made Terry more than a stock figure. It’s all crime drama by-the-numbers, like a game of Clue on uppers.
Discher managed the actors’ stage work nicely. Nothing looked unreal or faked, and the characters all related to one another perfectly credibly; they were all unquestionably in the same play, the same universe. But that’s just the craft of acting. (The company apparently had only a three-week rehearsal period, which speaks to the actors’ professionalism.) What was missing for me was the art part of acting—the part you can’t learn and no director can give you. The spark that makes the play jump off the stage and smack you in the face or punch you in the gut. No one caught fire, and that’s a problem for the director. He can’t hand them that element like he can blocking and even line readings—but he has to find the trigger that strikes that spark. It’s part of an actor’s homework—finding the thing that make the role juicy for him—but if the actor doesn’t come to it, the director has to utz him into finding it. Discher just settled for a technically expert production. Ultimately, the play never got under my skin the way it should have. Part of that’s McCormick’s failing, but Discher never solved the problem of the empty center.
Another thing Discher did accomplish was moving the three actors around the cluttered tailor shop of a set. Harry Feiner’s scene design was easily the best thing about The Violin. Gio’s shop was so covered with the objects of a tailor’s life and work there wasn’t enough room for a cat to skitter around the place. (Special commendation goes to properties designer Andrew Diaz for dressing this set. It must have been a Herculean effort.) In order to switch from one task, say stitching a garment, to doing something else, like eating a carry-in dinner, everything had to be moved from one surface to another to clear a new space. (I had an apartment like that when I first moved to New York.) To answer the phone (when Gio hears it), the old tailor had to unbury it from beneath a pile of clothes and fabric pieces. You could almost literally smell the must. (It’s a perfect example of a kitchen-sink set—even without an actual sink.)
Michael McDonald’s costume design, Michael E. Adelson’s lighting design, and Hao Bai’s sound design all added measurably to the palpable sense of place Feiner established. They were all as authentic to their East Village locale as Gio’s shop was. I live not too far from where the play’s set and I frequently run errands over near there and I know I’ve been in shops just like Gio’s, with all the attendant noises and shadows, and the customers and passersby dress just like the characters in The Violin. I may not know them, as I admitted to Diana—but I see them often. Discher’s design team nailed the whole look and feel of Alphabet City.
Show-Score collected 18 published notices which rendered an average score of 69—not the lowest I’ve seen, but close. The breakdown of the reviews was 66% positive, 17% mixed, and 17% negative. The highest score on the site was one 95 for TheaterScene.net, followed by a 90 (Broadway World); the lowest rating was a 40 for TheaterMania, backed by two 45’s (New York Times and Talkin’ Broadway). I’ll be reporting on 11 reviews in my round-up.
In the only print review, the Times’ low-scoring notice (45), Soloski characterized McCormick’s The Violin a “clumsily crafted, finely acted and, yes, high-strung drama.” The play, said Soloski, “aims to be a meditation on lives good, bad and unlived, though its philosophy never convinces.” Performed on Feiner’s “remarkable, ultrarealistic set,” it “has some of the savor of early David Mamet and much of the macho posturing,” but the “plotting, with its florid back stories and unsurprising revelations, is ploddingly predictable.” The Times reviewer added that “the dialogue is less than snappy,” and some “lines lack finesse.” Nonetheless, she continued, “some of them are still fun to hear, and there’s pleasure in watching the actors attack the roles.” LuPone, reported Soloski, “lends [Gio] moral authority and flickers of sardonic humor”; Isola “winningly communicates sweetness and perplexity,” even if “Terry’s impairments . . . seem like a writerly convenience”; and “tightly wound”; and Bradbury “gives perhaps the most layered turn” as Bobby. “But even capable actors,” concluded Soloski, “can’t make this play plausible or mend the contrived and sentimental conclusion.”
All the rest of the published and posted reviews of The Violin were in the cyber press. On TheaterScene.com, Eugene Paul called the première of McCormick drama “a valuable production” (though I’m not cleat what he meant by that) “under splendidly sympathetic direction by” Discher “in an uncommonly atmospheric setting by” Feiner. “You can’t take your eyes off Gio’s musty, cluttered old tailor shop,” effused Paul, crediting “[i]lluminating designer” Feiner with creating “the heart of the show.” The TS.com review-writer felt that playwright McCormick “involved us in what’s–going-to-happen-next,” director Discher “swept us up,” and the “three wonderful actors . . . hooked us.” He deemed LuPone “very fine,” Bradbury “outstanding,” and Isola “marvelous”; “We are in for the ride,” Paul decreed. In conclusion, he declared: “I cannot say enough about the direction and the performances. They’re grabbers.”
Tania Fisher affirmed on Stage Buddy that “McCormick provides a riveting and thoughtful story” and director Discher “tapped into the crux of the themes and nuances of the story, providing keen direction that never looks forced or unnatural.” Terry and Bobby’s relationship “is intelligently explored” and “McCormick has that rare knack of being able to insert moments of genuine comedy” that “don't take anything away from the gravitas of the scene.” Our Stage Buddy felt, “Although the story itself is completely absorbing, this special skill holds the audience for every step of the way, keeping us engaged and involved.” Her bottom line: “All in all, a gripping piece of theater not to be missed.”
David Kaufman of TheaterScene.net (not to be confused with TheaterScene.com, discussed above) reported at the outset of his review (which rated 95 on Show-Score), “The realism of the shabby, derelict, tailor’s shop that greets you when you arrive at the mainstage Theater A at 59E59 lets you know that you’re about to see that rarest of things in today’s theater–an old-fashioned, realistic, well-made play.” “The Violin does not disappoint,” declared Kaufman, “delivering one powerful punch and surprise after another.” The production was “directed with a razor-sharp precision and gritty realism by” Discher and the performances of Bradbury and Isola were “magnificent,” “matched by the estimable Robert LuPone.”
On Theater Pizzazz, Sandi Durell observed that McCormick “has written a far reaching tale” that “revolves around caring, a debt owed and paid and the cost of it all.” Gio was “expertly played” by LuPone, Badbury was “perfectly cast rough and tumble” and Isola was “marvelous.” Durell asserted that “you have to admire Dan McCormick’s reaching imagination,” but concluded, “I must admit it’s a really tall tale of circumstances thrown together and hard to believe but it’s a winning cast and makes its point.” Elyse Sommer of CurtainUp found that The Violin is a play with “major and minor flaws” and that “the plot does have a credibility problem.” The playwright drops hints “like bread crumbs throughout the two hours too obviously telescope the high drama surprise finale,” which “sacrifices credibility for melodramatic sentimentality,” though “it does surprise and comes with a big bang.” Despite this, Sommer felt, the production “is bolstered by the beautiful performances of LuPone, Bradbury and Isola.”
Calling the play “a slow-paced melodrama with sit-com flourishes,” Howard Miller of Talkin’ Broadway lamented, “Some very good acting, a couple of emotionally touching speeches, and an evocative set are not enough to cover up the numerous plot holes and overall sudsy narrative of The Violin.” (Miller’s review scored a low 45 on Show-Score.) The plot begins “[a]fter a rambling introduction,” and then “unfolds amidst side stories that lead nowhere.” Miller asserted, “Somewhere buried in all of this is a lost potential” and concluded, “The three performers, under Joseph Discher's direction, do their best with what they have been given to work with, but there simply is not enough for The Violin to escape its discordant structure.”
David Roberts posited on Theatre Reviews Limited that McCormick “created believable characters whose conflicts are easily identifiable as significant and raising rich and enduring questions about the compass of morality in human behavior.” Roberts reported that Bradbury played Bobby “with the perfect balance of moral depravity and salvific rigor,” Isola portrayed Terry “with an unwavering naivete and scarred innocence,” and LuPone plays Gio “with a high moralism masking an underlying guilt.” The TRL reviewer ended his review with a cryptic comment that’s hard for me to decipher—except that it’s a objection: “If a violin is the main character in a play – and afforded that play’s title – one might expect that “actor” to have more to say.”
On Theatre’s Leiter Side, Samuel L. Leiter, like many other reviewers (not to forget myself), compared McCormick The Violin with Mamet’s American Buffalo, but found that McCormick’s play is “far less memorable.” “In a sense,” asserted Leiter, the play “is an existential melodrama about how our choices define us.” Then the TLS blogger declared, “The Violin is about as old-fashioned, formulaic, and predictable as they come; it is straightforward naturalism without any of the fanciful, dreamlike incursions with which so many of today’s playwrights like to distract us.” He also observed, “The ending can be surmised at least two-thirds of the way through” and added that “never does [the play] make its far-fetched dramatics convincing.” Leiter declared, “Dramatic exigency takes precedence over dramatic honesty,” pointing out, “The characters, who look right in Michael McDonald’s costumes, are anything but consistent.” He summed up his opinion of the production and the play this way:
Under Joseph Discher’s direction, the pacing and energy maintain attention but there are too many times that the vastly experienced actors seem to be wearing signs saying, “Look, I’m acting.” You admire their technical facility but they push too hard to be fully believable; a large part of the blame rests with the insufficiently credible characters they’re playing.
As his final remark, Leiter quipped: “During the play, Terry tries playing the violin he’s found. Like his playing, Dan McCormick’s The Violin is seriously out of tune.”
In Show-Score’s highest-rated notice (90), Marina Kennedy proclaimed on Broadway World, “The Violin . . . is a drama that gives audiences a compelling reason to go to the theatre.” The première, said Kennedy, “is an intriguing play,” featuring a “a thought-provoking” story and “the finest staging and superior acting.” In fact, the BWW review-writer found that the “cast of accomplished actors . . . completely master their roles” so that the actors “capture the drama, humor and the suspense of this very original story” and “characters are distinctive and perfectly portrayed.” Her final word is: “The Violin is a play that you will remember long after the curtain call. Make this fascinating human drama a part of your fall entertainment schedule.”
On TheaterMania, Zachary Stewart opened Show-Score lowest-scoring review (40) with this blunt criticism of “an overwrought melodrama”:
It is reasonable to spend the first act of Dan McCormick’s The Violin wondering what era the playwright had in mind when committing ink to paper. From the look of Harry Feiner’s overstuffed set (not a digital screen in sight) and Michael McDonald’s vintage costumes (complete with a red puffer vest), one might assume late ’80s, early ’90s. McCormick’s dialogue, which sounds drawn straight out of an old Robert De Niro movie, feels similarly dated. In fact, a glance at the program would inform you that this world premiere . . . is taking place in “present day February.” That’s just the least example of how this tortured crime caper strains credulity.
Stewart also complains not only, “Everyone speaks in an exaggerated ‘youz guyz’ New Yorkese,” but, “They also tend to use far more words than is necessary to get a point across, making the play feel slow to develop.” McCormick “overloaded his script with tearful monologues revealing deep, dark secrets from the past,” which “provide the only fuel for a less-than-combustible script.” The TM reviewer did feel, however, that director Discher “directs a handsome production,” praising the work of designers Feiner, Adelson, and Bai; however, “not even performers as watchable as LuPone, Bradbury, and Isola can save this show.” In the end, Stewart reported, “It makes for a dull two hours. The only surprises come when we see just how shameless McCormick is in each successive contrivance, the last of which will leave you with a hearty (if unintended) chuckle.”