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Real-life crime frames City Theatre drama

Few among us look at the turning points in our lives without wondering where the road not chosen might have taken us.

Even if you’re like Erica Morini and Brian Skarstad, the two characters in “The Morini Strad,” and have made peace with your choice, it’s still possible to feel a lingering regret for the life not lived.

In Willy Holtzman’s play, now receiving its world premiere at City Theatre on the South Side, a rare and valuable violin becomes the device that allows Morini and Skarstad to confront these issues.

Morini, a real-life, once-famous concert violinist nearing the end of her life, hires Skarstad, a violin-maker turned violin restorer to repair some accidental damage to her multimillion-dollar Stradivarius violin.

They’re both prickly and temperamental. Against all odds, their client-service provider relationship evolves into a wary friendship.

Actor David Whalen’s Skarstad is a practical man who chose to support his wife and sons through the more dependable and lucrative repair work while relegating his love of creating violins to an occasional indulgence.

As the aging tart-tongued diva, Carla Belver’s Morini is properly imperious, demanding, suspicious and more than a little lonely. A child prodigy whose career was predetermined long before she made her 1920 Carnegie Hall debut at age 17, she has no regrets about the choices and sacrifices she made to sustain a successful artistic career. Still, she has reached the age where what-if questions and concern for a lasting legacy trouble her.

When Morini devises a plan that should bring peace to both of them, it looks like the drama has entered the express lane to a happy ending. But Morini and Skarstad are real people, and reality is often messy.

While Morini lies in a hospital, her violin mysteriously disappears from a locked cabinet in her apartment, robbing both characters as well as the audience from the comfort of complete closure.

Despite a $100,000 reward, the real violin is still missing. Known officially as the Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius. it is listed among the Top 10 Art Crimes on the FBI’s website.

Crafting drama from the lives of real people and an incompletely resolved plot device creates problems for the playwright. Some of the play’s moments feel like they were shaped to advance plot and drama.

Nevertheless, Holtzman crafts an upbeat ending that speaks to questions of what was lost or unrecoverable and whether Morini or Skarstad were victimized by others or prospered just fine, thank you.

Daniella Topol’s level-headed direction expedites the action and avoids saccharine sentimentality.

Scenic designer Tony Ferrieri provides creative and attractive solutions to the necessity of seamlessly providing four very different locations on one stage. Composer Louise Beach augments the ambiance with original musical interludes that create bridges and background.

The production plays out in just under 90 minutes without an intermission.

Additional Information:

‘The Morini Strad’

Produced by: City Theatre Company

When: Through Dec. 12 at 7 p.m Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5:30 and 9 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and 1 p.m. today, Dec 1 and 8. No performances Nov. 24 and 25.

Admission: $30-$60; discounts available for those 25 and younger and 60

Where: City Theatre, 1313 Bingham St., South Side.

Details: 412-431-2489 or website


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