Born in Haifa, Israela Margalit first made a career as a concert pianist and then switched to writing. That deep familiarity with the world of classical music informs her play “First Prize,” at the Arclight Theatre at 152 West 71st Street. With a talented cast of four, the play examines the decades-long career of Adrianna, a gifted young pianist who sacrifices a great deal to achieve her dream. Lori Prince plays Adrianna as a young woman, and Susan Ferrara, who portrays her teacher at the start, takes over the role of the mature Adrianna, along with several other characters. The other cast members, Brian Dykstra and Christopher Hirsh, also play numerous characters – businessmen, managers, boyfriends, fans, and conductors. Director Margaret Perry expertly keeps all this moving at a brisk pace, and the play zips along in an entertaining way, with Dykstra and Ferrara giving standout comic performances.
ReviewMargalit’s point is that while the product of classical music seems to exist on a higher spiritual plane, the business of classical music is as competitive and corrupt as any other. There are many extraordinarily talented young people desperate to seize a much smaller number of opportunities in a cruel version of musical chairs. As Adrianna says at one point, when the overriding desire to perform meets the total power to grant that chance, sometimes not-so-nice things happen. The youthful Adrianna is groped and propositioned, and she’s offered the chance to spend $20,000 to arrange a private concert, where somebody important might come to hear her. If she can’t come up with the cash and isn’t willing to lie down, she has to depend on persistence and chutzpah to get a foot in the door.
Scenic designer David L. Arsenault has emphasized the play’s dynamics by placing open doorways and closed doors on stage and papering the walls with musical scores. As Adrianna and the other characters are always coming and going, we get a sense of the constant travel that is the essence of any performing musician’s life. Adrianna’s desire to go on just one more tour eventually ends her romance, but she never seems all that disappointed. This is not a play about a suffering artist, groaning over all she’s lost. Margalit looks at the world of concertizing with affection and humor; it may be a snake pit, but she knows and likes all the snakes.
Margalit began performing in Israel as a young teen and went on to play with 50 major orchestras around the world. For a time she was married to the conductor Loren Maazel, with whom she had two children. She began writing seriously when she took a break from the concert circuit to raise her children. “First Prize” is her fourth produced play. Her third play “Trio” premiered in Moscow and toured for five years throughout the former Soviet Union. It examined the possible love triangle of Robert Schumann, his wife Clara, and their protÃ©gÃ©, Brahms.
We don’t learn a great deal about Adrianna’s inner life, and Margalit doesn’t have anything extraordinary to say about life and art, but she certainly knows the ins and outs of the concert circuit – the endless middle to small towns, the local music enthusiasts who must be recognized and flattered, the constant need for self-promotion, the inevitable eclipse by younger artists. Dykstra’s arch and knowing way with a line and Ferrara’s lovable presentation of a variety of goofy women add greatly to the audience’s enjoyment. Just like the pianist in the play, they are professionals and get the job done.
The play runs through May 21. For more information, go to www.kefproductions.com.