The Morini Strad
by
Willy Holtzman


The Morini Strad
Mariette Hartley, David Nevell


Director
Scenic Design
Costume Design
Lighting Design
Sound Design
Properties Design & Set Dressing
Production Stage Manager
Public Relations
Technical Director
Violin Consultant
Sound Design Assistant
Production Crew

Light Board Operator
Sound Board Operator
Stage Crew
Key Art
Production Photography

Stephanie Vlahos
Stephen Gifford
Kate Bergh
Jared A. Sayeg
Drew Dalzell
MacAndME
Ashley Boehne Ehlers
David Elzer/Demand PR
Robert T. Kyle
Aimee Kreston
Jenna Riley
Watson Bradshaw, Brian Cordoba,
Cuyler Perry Christopher Rivera, Genetra Tull
Kathryn Horan
Healther L. Waters
Brian Cordoba, Andrea Dean
Doirean Heldt
Michael Lamont


CAST
(in order of appearance)

Erica Morini
Brian Skarstad
Young Violinist

Mariette Hartley
David Nevell
Geneva Lewis


TIME:  The Recent Past

Prologue:  Erica’s Upper Fifth Avenue Apartment & Brian’s Violin Workshop

Scene One: 
Erica’s Apartment

Scene Two: 
Brian’s Workshop

Variation: 
A recital hall at the Mannes School of Music

Scene Three: 
Erica’s Apartment

Scene Four: 
Admitting at Mt. Sinai Hospital

Variation: 
Erica’s Apartment and Erica’s Hospital Room

Coda: 
Erica’s Hospital Room

Epilogue: 
Brian’s Workshop



Running Time

Approximately 95 Minutes
The Morini Strad is performed without intermission




NOTE FROM THE DIRECTOR

In today’s parlance, the word “diva” has taken on a veneer that pales in terms of what it once implied. “Diva” was a word that spoke of a female artist who was at the top of her craft, fully realized, and with a grace that managed to overcome a male-dominated industry in a pre-feminist culture. "Diva" was first attributed to the great women of opera and then, by extension, to women in the other art forms who attained a status in their art akin to the word’s Italian derivation: a goddess. Erica Morini was in every sense of the word, a diva, and, as a diva was delivered with the joys of having a powerful and respected presence in the world of classical music as well as the solitary angst of dancing to the beat of a different drummer, particularly as a woman. While other girls were fathoming trips to visit their grandparents and a life full of children and homemaking, Erica was en route to Carnegie Hall and a life dedicated to her gift and celebrity. The Davidoff Strad, a gift from Morini’s father, was perhaps the greatest testament to Erica Morini’s talent and as such represented, for Erica, a symbol of her life’s work.

Dating back to the mid 17th century, 1,116 Stradivarius instruments were crafted, of which 540 still remain.  The instruments have a sound that cannot be mimicked by any other instrument constructed by any other luthier. Some people attribute the unique sound to the treatment of the wood, others to the Cremonese water. Whatever the case, the legendary sonority of Stradivari instruments has made them highly coveted as well as victims of a number of fetish thefts (those that cannot be openly sold). The Davidoff Strad was part of a lineage of disappearing Strads, though its particular disappearance remains on the FBI’s list of top ten unsolved mysteries. One can only imagine Brian Skarstad’s response to the opportunity to sell, let alone handle, the Davidoff Strad. The few weeks that he knew Erica Morini must have felt like nothing short of a dream as he moved in the alien universe that was all Erica’s.

It is rare to have a window onto the unique world of classical music, which, for those who are in it, often seems the only world. The Morini Strad explores that world honestly, and with an incisive grasp, without presumption but as one artist (Willy Holtzman) exploring what all artists feel in the grips of inspiration. The mysterious disappearance of the Davidoff Strad is only a sad testament to greed. That it inspired a play that is a poignant dialogue and love story motivated by a shared passion for music is a more fitting tribute to Madame Morini. It is not a play about time or place but of the unchanging spirit of those inspired by music.

In truth, Erica Morini died in the hospital cradling an imposter, never knowing that her precious companion, if not the extension of her deeply inspired self, had already departed.

─ Stephanie Vlahos


THE TRUE STORY

Yes, there really was an Erica Morini.  She did own a valuable Stradivarius violin.  It did mysteriously vanish, and it is still missing.

Born in Vienna in 1904, Morini was one of the foremost violinists of the 20th century. A child prodigy, she made her Viennese debut at the age of 12. In 1920, she began her tour of the United States with a series of four concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

According to her obituary in The New York Times, that newspaper's former chief music critic Harold C. Schonberg once called her "probably the greatest violinist who ever lived."

She lived in Europe but moved to Manhattan after the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938 and remained there until her death in 1995.

Sometime in the 1920s or 1930s, Morini's father paid a Paris dealer the equivalent of $10,000 for the violin that's formally known as the Davidoff Stradivarius, a reference to a Russian cellist who previously owned it.

Made in 1727 by the legendary violin maker Antonio Stradivari, its value was estimated at $3.5 million when it went missing from a locked closet in Morini's apartment a few weeks before her death in a New York City hospital. Brian Skarstad, the obscure luthier she had hired to repair it, helped the FBI in their investigation and was the lead witness in the federal grand jury. He was never a suspect because investigators knew he knew that stolen Strads can't be sold. Once, after a long conversation with the FBI special agent Jim Wynne (who now heads the national FBI art crime section), Skarstad said to him "You never asked if I stole it." He said, "Well, didja?" "No." "That's why I didn't ask," he said.

As far as we know, Morini died without knowing the violin had been stolen.

Despite a $100,000 reward, the Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius is still missing, and is listed to this day among the Top 10 Art Crimes on the FBI's website.




FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

We recently sent out an announcement detailing the financial challenges we are facing, which resulted in an outpouring of support from our audiences that has been deeply gratifying. We also heard from many of our colleagues in the non-profit theatre community that they were dealing with similar challenges and could have written the same letter!  Of course that led to yet another series of depressing discussions about the demise of traditional live theatre.

But I take heart in the memory of an incident from over 20 years ago. It happened at a theatre conference where pretty much the same discussions were taking place. In one memorable session, panelist after panelist lamented the death of theatre as we knew it.

Then Garson Kanin, the final panelist, spoke up. He was a great man of the theatre who had worked on Broadway as a successful producer, director, and playwright for many decades. He said, “Y’know, when I first went to New York as a young man in the 1930s, all I heard was ‘This is the worst year we’ve ever had!’ A decade later, in the 40s, they were saying ‘This is the worst year we’ve ever had!’ Then in the 50s? Same thing. ‘Worst year we’ve ever had!’ ”

Then he looked at us with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Let’s face it, kids. The theatre’s been dying for thousands of years.”

The theatre’s been dying for thousands of years.

Of course what he meant was that the theatre will never die. Never. It’s in our DNA as human beings, from the time that first cave man stood up at the campfire and captivated his audience with a story of the hunt. We are all that primitive audience’s descendants, since there isn’t a person alive on this planet who doesn’t respond to a good story, and there’s simply no experience in life quite like taking a journey of the imagination in the company of others.

So yes, the theatre’s been dying for thousands of years. And next year, next decade, next century it will still be dying - and vibrantly alive.

Barbara Beckley
Artistic Director


SPECIAL THANKS

Brad Brown   Brian Edwards & PRG   Julie Gigante, Larry Larson Music Store
   Djanet,  John and Richard Strumreiter   Phil Torf & House of Props   Wadler Data Systems