How do you stage the inside of a genius’s brain? Especially if that genius is experiencing the worst creative block of his life?
If you’re Dave Malloy and Rachel Chavkin — the duo behind the 2013 Obie-winning Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 — you concoct a cheerfully loopy meditation on creativity, set to a live piano score. Preludes, Malloy and Chavkin’s new creation, imagines famed Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (Gabriel Ebert) at the depths of artistic despair, three years after a disastrous 1897 debut. Since then “Rach” has been unable to write, so instead he does everything else: keeps house with his cousin/fiancée, hobnobs with a who’s-who of Russian celebs — Tolstoy, Chekhov — and, eventually, visits a hypnotist (Eisa Davis) in the hope of breaking free.
Chavkin and Malloy conjure many striking sequences: a mesmerizing trance dance, a glowing mountain that rises from a pile of broken furniture and musical instruments. (Set designer Mimi Lien adeptly imagines the junkyard of a tortured musician’s consciousness.) And as Rach’s music-playing doppelgänger, Or Matias coaxes beautiful melodies from a grand piano center stage.
These surreal flourishes are the best parts of Preludes, whose plot wears thin: There are only so many times we can wonder whether Rach will write again, and when the inevitable breakthrough will come. Listening to the music, at least you’ll be glad it did.
By Dave Malloy
Claire Tow Theater
150 West 65th Street