Manhattan criminals have a lucrative sideline in Stradivarius thefts. In 1994, miscreants lifted a violin from an idle Rolls Royce. In 2002, they nicked another from a Lincoln Center luthier. And in 1996, while the famed concert performer Erica Morini lay ill in the hospital, someone pilfered her $3.75 million Davidoff Stradivarius from her Central Park apartment. That particular crime inspires The Morini Strad, Willy Holtzman’s play concerning Morini (Mary Beth Peil) and Brian Skarstad (Michael Laurence), the craftsman she hires to restore and then sell her beloved instrument.
Primary Stages is perhaps New York’s most conservative new play company, putting on well-structured scripts in typically well-acted productions—laboratory designed to offend none and excite few. The Morini Strad, helmed by Primary Stages artistic director Casey Childs, is no exception. Peil and Laurence are both fine actors—even when she’s saddled with a Mittel-European accent and he’s forced into a pajama top with bears printed on it. (They’re occasionally joined by a young female soloist, Hannah Stuart, a silent character who seems to represent the younger Morini.) But Holtzman’s scenes pluck a series of familiar chords, favoring truisms such as “An Artist is someone who is unwilling to compromise!” and “Life is a symphony.” The story does contain one twist, but it’s a twist that occurred in real life, rather than one supplied by the playwright. Heavy on the predictability and the platitudes, The Morini Strad aspires only to the condition of muzak.