Play: The Double Bass
Group: Upstream Theater
Venue: Through February 7 at Kranzberg Arts Center, Big Brothers/Big Sisters Building at 501 North Grand, Feb. 11-14 at 305 South Skinker Blvd.
Dates: February 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14
Tickets: From $12.50-$25; contact 314-863-4999 or www.upstreamtheater.org
Story: An unnamed musician contemplates his solitary life and his complex relationship with his instrument, the double bass, in his soundproofed apartment. “The double bass is far and away the most important instrument in the orchestra,” he observes. “But does it get credit for it?” And what recognition does its performer receive? Our anonymous protagonist ruminates about his profession and his life in this one-man, one-act, one-hour presentation.
Highlights: Ever searching for plays that “move you – and move you to think,” Upstream Theater artistic director Philip Boehm offers a drama written by German playwright Patrick Suskind in 1980 and translated by Michael Hofmann. Through the adroit story-telling abilities of actor J. Samuel Davis, this treatise on the allure and ensnarement of artistic achievement provides a telling glimpse into the soul and heart of a lonely musician.
Director Boehm carefully guides Davis through a series of intellectual and emotional observations about the power and persuasion of the character’s longtime and sometimes unhealthy love affair with his instrument of choice. It’s a “female instrument” as he describes it, one that consumes his days with practice and his nights with performance, while he fantasizes about joining a fetching soprano named Sarah, “with an h,” in duets that can showcase their individual talents. Trouble is, just two such works for singer and double bass player exist, by a little-known composer at that.
Other Info: Davis fills the forlorn performer with equal doses of rollicking good humor and fits of disturbing anger that demonstrate an uneasy grasp on reality. It’s no coincidence that the play’s title showcases the instrument and ignores its performer, and Davis expertly captures that ranking with explosive bursts of anger that chafe at his character’s innards. It’s a virtuoso performance that focuses more on his character’s loneliness and isolation than on his adeptness with his instrument of choice.
An elongated monologue, or rather a two-character work with the sometimes serene, sometimes strident notes of the instrument in contrast to the protagonist, The Double Bass is likely best appreciated and savored by performers themselves, who doubtlessly will recognize the isolated hours of preparation behind their on-stage heroics. Jason Coale’s set design is the quiet little home of our nameless host, dominated by that looming and powerful title instrument as well as adorned with a stereo that plays a number of LPs from the character’s cherished collection, as well as some functional furniture.
Joseph W. Clapper’s lighting is focused and steady, Michele Siler’s costuming is suitably non-descript to match the unnoticed flair of the musician and Boehm’s judicious sound design, with the notable contributions of consultant Erik Harris, notably showcases the contributions of that prized double bass in a number of orchestral works.
References to familiar names such as Leonard Slatkin update the story to our own Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, but the universality of Suskind’s drama pertains to any artist whose overwhelming passion for art can result in ultimately consuming despair if not balanced with other healthy outlets for expression. Let’s hope that ‘Sarah’ can rescue our troubled host from his disturbing demons before he falls too far down the rabbit hole of anguish.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.