Playwright: David Katz. At: Hat City Music Productions at the. Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont. Phone: 773-327-2525; $20-$25. Runs through: March 23
A staple of 'sensitive' male fiction is the homage-to-a-hero genre, in which a formerly clumsy, callow, youthfully impetuous acolyte reminisces affectionately on his apprenticeship to a gruff, eccentric, demanding martinet of a mentor—a relationship hearkening to that of son and father, for you Freudians. The retrospective plot proposes no uncertain dramatic question, no brain-twisting intellectual argument, no claims to unbiased documentation or anything more than a sentimental elegy promising audiences a good cry and renewed hopes for reconciliation of human conflicts.
Charles Bruck, former master of the Pierre Monteux music academy, has all the quirks necessary for his role in David Katz's autobiographical drama: in the years encompassed by this play, he is elderly and Eastern European, his heavily accented English riddled with malapropisms and impaired by a severe lisp, causing him to spit profusely ( far upstage of the curtain line, fortunately ) . He heckles his students mercilessly, sneers at the Tanglewood Music Center school's curriculum, and shuts the door in the face of callers daring to arrive early. But he loses his composure and weeps in anguish during a rehearsal of Schoenberg's Survivor From Warsaw—breakdowns rooted in vivid Holocaust memories being an indispensable element in the portrayal of such characters.
Katz is not content to simply play the wide-eyed foil, as playwright or as performer, but instead invokes his mentor's irascible personality within the conceit of the latter's critiquing from the grave, with unrepentant candor, his pupil's account of his life's events. Switching voices with the lightning speed and clarity to be expected of an actor trained in tonal sensitivity, Katz also, in the course of the show, physically replicates with hilarious accuracy the antics of three woefully inept student conductors and stacks sheet music into a precariously swaying column that he comically dismantles to the accompaniment of Tchaikovsky's Sixth symphony ( the third movement, with cymbals ) , before changing into his formal clothes with a quiet reverence more eloquent than words.
And then there's the music, selected for familiarity—Dukas, Grieg, Mendelssohn, Debussy and, of course, Wagner—accompanied by a slide-show of famous conductors wearing characteristically ecstatic expressions. We may not all go home as enamored of Maestro Bruck as Katz, but the allegretto running time of 100 minutes ( with one intermission ) nevertheless offers a wealth of enjoyment even for those who don't know Borodin from Bugs Bunny.