“So, what does a conductor do, anyway?” a colleague asked me at the conclusion of this show. After two hours of David Katz delivering a heartfelt, schizophrenic performance as both conducting teacher and student (Katz himself, the playwright, performer and a conductor in real life), plenty of insight was given into how a great teacher can inspire students to go beyond themselves and how such a teacher stays in our consciousness as a living, breathing presence long after he or she is gone, but this is a work that remains far too inside its own world for its own good. If you know classical music, there are plenty of personalities and pieces that you will recognize here—though ironically, the piece’s inspiration, conducting teacher Charles Bruck, is not likely to be one of them—but using canned orchestral music as a backdrop to rehearsals of would-be conducting sessions is problematic on two levels: first, the music itself inevitably competes (I found myself lost in the glories of Wagner’s “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” and ignoring Katz’s distracting yelling over the score, which had the effect of Marcel Duchamp putting a moustache on the “Mona Lisa”) and, second, a recording is a static entity that cannot stop or start nor adjust itself the way a real orchestra would. This leaves audience members with the idea that a conductor follows music, when the reality is that a conductor generates music in every aspect, the same way that a director of a play, for instance, makes every interpretative decision. Without a conductor sculpting sound, you have dots and directions on paper and instruments as raw as, say, tubes of unmixed paint before an artist mixes them on a palette. Thus, I’m conflicted. I like this show and find it enormously entertaining, but wonder if that’s because I have spent much of my professional life around great conductors, though I also suspect that anyone who has had a great teacher in any subject would find this a worthwhile experience. And I do think that Katz is on his way to something very special here, but at this point, this feels more like what an orchestra would call an initial “run through.” (Dennis Polkow)
At the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, (773)327-5252. This production is now closed.