Old Wicked Songs
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Ed Smith

“Joy and sadness are the core of music,” says Josef Mashkan (Jarion Monroe) to his student Stephen Hoffman (Mark Farrell) in Marin Theatre’s production of Old Wicked Songs. “When a composer finds both we get Mozart.” In these words we find the essence of Jon Marans’ play, which explores the trauma of war and its long lasting aftermath.

Stephen Hoffman is a young American concert pianist who has somehow lost his connection to music and is seeking the help of a well-known Viennese teacher. Instead, he’s enrolled in a class with vocal coach Josef Mashkan. Hoffman is resistant from the start even though Mashkan tells him that understanding the singers he will accompany will make him a better pianist. Hoffman feels this voice class is a waste of his time and that he should be concentrating on playing the piano. “Life is not so clear cut,” Mashkan tells him. “Sing with more passion.”

Indeed, it is passion that Hoffman lacks and passion is born from “joy and sadness.” Hoffman fears that these voice lessons will only make him further lose touch with the piano. “You cannot lose what you do not yet understand,” Mashkan tells him and we see the seeds beginning to grow in a very rocky friendship.

It is this ambivalent but growing friendship that makes this drama beautiful as the two men face some of the horrors that traumatized the world during WWII. Their friendship draws the audience in to their world where the older Mashkan has learned to “question, always question” – a world where Mashkan bears no grudge although his heart may break. Yet it is also a world where “beauty always lurks where you least expect it.” It is a world of joy and sadness that Hoffman learns can inspire his music.

For tickets or more information about this fine production call (415) 388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org.

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