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Theater review: 'Trio' at the Lounge 2 Theatre

March 17, 2011 |  7:00 pm

TRIO Music stirs these souls.

That's pretty much to be expected, since "Trio's" central characters are the composers Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, as well as Schumann's pianist wife, Clara.

Ah, but music also agitates and even imprisons these towering talents. Now that's more confounding. More intriguing.

Such evanescence is largely quashed, however, in a clanking script by Israel-born, New York-based pianist and writer Israela Margalit. The play, as translated into Russian, has been a hit in that country, but its U.S. premiere, at a small space in Hollywood, merely inspires head-scratching.

Through the years, a lot of fevered conjecture has been devoted to the passions, artistic and otherwise, that ignited when the 20-ish Brahms gained the Schumanns' mentorship in the mid-1850s.

Through labored dialogue and hit-you-over-the-head flashbacks, Margalit spells out troubles in the Schumann household: He bristles at the public's inconstant appreciation, she is shut in by the expectations of marriage and motherhood. Then Brahms knocks on the door and hope returns.

Director Rick Sparks is usually a big-picture guy with strong vision, as in 2001's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" But not here. Tousled, agitated Bjorn Johnson plays Schumann with the lush overemphasis of 19th century melodrama while Jeremy Shranko, as Brahms, is so callow that, were it not for pasted-on mutton chops, he would appear to be just some kid who happened to be skateboarding along and decided to poke his head into the theater.

Mercifully, Meghan Maureen McDonough, as Clara, manages a believable balance of sepia-toned history and in-the-moment emotion. Confined inside a stiff, flared, funereal dress (kudos to costumer Sharell Martin), she is a caged bird determined to fly. Her music transcends this flawed composition, however fleetingly.  

-- Daryl H. Miller

"Trio," the Lounge 2 Theatre, 6201 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 10. $25. (323) 960-4412 or www.plays411.com/trio. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Photo: In "Trio," the Schumanns, portrayed by Bjorn Johnson, left, and Meghan Maureen McDonough, host young Johannes Brahms, played by Jeremy Shranko. Credit: Ed Krieger.

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