“When one is young, one hears only the word ‘great.’ When one is less young, one hears only the word ‘next.’ ” So says the spiky centrifuge of “The Morini Strad” at the Colony Theatre. In its elegant West Coast premiere, Willy Holtzman’s fact-based drama about virtuoso Erica Morini and the instrument she yearns to restore traces a moving reverie on classical mastery, the realities of aging and the cost of artistic ambition.
Morini (1904-1995), considered by many observers to be the sine qua non of her profession, was a child prodigy who attacked the violin with a force that hitherto was the domain of male counterparts. Her decline, and the mystery surrounding her 1727 Davidoff Stradivarius, forms the content of Holtzman’s two-hander. Accordingly, audiences should skip the program notes concerning her true story -- it essentially gives away the whole narrative.
Better to focus onstage, where director Stephanie Vlahos reworks genre conventions to delicately rubato effect. Designer Stephen Gifford’s restrained set pieces evoke a grande dame’s apartment, a violin restorer’s workplace and, climactically, Carnegie Hall. Jared A. Sayeg’s lights, Kate Bergh’s costumes and Drew Dalzell’s sound strike apt grace notes.
As aforementioned restorer Brian Skarstad, actor David Nevell provides staunch counterpoint for the transcendent Mariette Hartley, whose fine-tuned portrayal of Erica is one for the record books. Without this duo, who recall the late David Dukes opposite Rosemary Harris, or gifted young Geneva Lewis as Erica’s student and younger self, “Morini Strad” might fall short of what, to this reviewer, it achieves: as quietly engrossing, core audience-friendly an item as the venue has housed since “Trying.” Bravi a tutti.
“The Morini Strad,” Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 16. $20-$42. (818) 558-7000, Ext. 15 or www.ColonyTheatre.org. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.