Sunday, August 26, 2007
The theremin is the oddly fascinating musical instrument from the early twentieth century that is responsible for those moogy, eerie, somehow space-aged sounds in a lot of '50's horror movies. (You know what it sounds like if you've seen black and white film of a tin dish on a string being passed off as a spaceship.) It's the first instrument to be powered by electricity and probably the only one that is played without being touched; the thereminist controls pitch and volume with hand movements near the instrument. The story of Leon Theremin, the Russian inventor who created something of a sensation in Amercia with his creation before disappearing mysteriously for decades, is filtered in this (Fringe Festival) one-act through the narrated imaginings of Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson, seen here in a straitjacket and (as played by the drama's author, Ben Lewis) often in maniacal-energy mode. I'm really not sure why, because - apart from Wilson's childhood exposure to the theremin marking the birth of his musical inspiration - the play doesn't really make a sustained case for a connection between the two men. There are some musings about genius and the value of innovative vision, but they don't take hold: the narration starts to feel superfluous. The most potentially dramatic analogy between the two men's stories is reduced to a couple of lines like an afterthought.