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A CurtainUp Review
A Walk With Mr. Heifetz
By Simon Saltzman
Well then...why did you suggest that we go for a walk? — Jaschs

You must walk. For a Jew who visits Palestine for the first time must walk. He must stride along the brows of its hills, feel its warm earth under his feet. See where our people turn swampland into fields of plants that already give fruit. Talking of fruit, by the way, have you tried one of our oranges? — Yehuda
L. to R. Yuval Boim and Erik Lochtefeld (photo credit: James Leynse)
in 1926, composer, violinist and kibbutz choir master Yehuda Sharett (Yuval Boim), was 25 living in Palestine, before Israel became a state, a geopolitical entity under British authority. Jascha Heifetz (Adam Green), who was also 25 at the time and already acclaimed as a world class violinist visited Palestine for the first time and performed at a concert that attracted an audience of thousands— Sharett among them.

Though awed by Heifetz, Sharett presumptuously asked the famous visitor to take a walk with him in the surrounding hills following the concert. Heifetz agreed and comprises the action in Act I of James Inverne's interesting but didactic play A Walk With Mr. Heifetz, a production of Primary Stages.

The men walk and talk atop a hill near some ancient ruins (a simple but evocative setting by designer Wilson Chin). Seen by us but not essentially a real character is a violinist (Mariella Haubs) who hovers in the background and provides some virtuosic playing which also gives musical punctuation to the dialogue.

What they talk about for the entirety of Act I is the nature, the motivation and the responsibility of a real artist. From what I could surmise from the increasingly testy discussion is that a self-assured Heifetz becomes the primary catalyst for Sharett to leave Palestine as well as the musical esthetic in which he is immersed to study music in Berlin amongst the more progressive composers such as Kurt Weill and Alban Berg. The latter, however, as noted by Jascha ,is an ardent anti-Semite.

While many will find this discourse intellectually bracing, I suspect the lack of emotional gravitas even as their perspectives differ, begs the question of dramatic urgency. Boim creates a robust image of a man whose budding nationalism is destined to play a part in his life as a composer. Sharett has a lovely moment singing a "nigun," a song from the heart without words. As he explains, "The Nigun comes from the Jewish spirit. It sings to us —all of us — from our history."

Except for a few fleeting moments, Heifetz is significantly absent in Act II. He remains in memory as a dapper, stiff-necked, self-assured, slightly patronizing musical genius — an artist notably driven as much by his own ego. Effectively replacing him as the second act's antagonist is Yehuda's brother Moshe Sharett (Erik Lochtefeld). The time is now 1945 and the setting the modest interior of Yehuda's kibbutz home. It is here where the composer has remained cloistered and unproductive following a tragic accident in which both his wife and sister were killed. Having created the stirring image of an impassioned young composer Boim is equally persuasive in this passive mode.

In contrast, Moshe is highly motivated, destined within three years to become Israeli's Foreign Minister and later Prime Minister. Moshe visits his despondent brother hoping to inspire him to reactivate his now dormant talent and return to composing. Lochtefeld makes an impression as a born orator and persuader but also as a concerned brother.

Moshe, an ardent Zionist also uses his gift for diplomacy when facing his resistant brother. He has, perhaps, a little too much to say under the circumstances and most of it is spoken at breakneck speed. Listen carefully, however, and you will get plenty to chew on in Inverne's play about the cultural distinctiveness of the Israeli music from a nation about to free itself from the yoke of British occupation.

Director Andrew Leynse does what he can to keep our interest alive and present the discourse with commendable authority. The play's willingness to keep the three characters talking about the role the artist, notably Yehuda, plays in nurturing and also empowering a nationalistic musical esthetic is, however, not quite enough to satisfy our thirst for more intense drama.

It is fascinating to hear how the tune that was to become the Israeli national anthem was found. What hasn't been found is a compelling enough story to tie all the rhetoric together.

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A Walk With Mr. Heifetz by James Inverne
Directed by Andrew Leynse

Cast: Yuval Boim (Yehuda Sharett,, Adam Green (Jascha Heifetz), Mariella Haubs (Violinist), Erik Lochtefeld (Moshe Sharett)
Scenic Design: Wilson Chin
Costume Design; Jen Caprio
Lighting Design: John Froelich
Sound Design: M.L. Dogg
Production Stage Manager: Michal V. Mendelson
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes including intermission
Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St.
For tickets and performances:
From 01/31/18 Opened 02/20/18 Ends 03/04/18
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/14/18

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