Review: Piano Diaries (Salt Muse Inc. at Athenaeum Theatre)

| June 18, 2014
Peter Saltzman writes and stars in his one-man show "Piano Diaries," directed by Edwin Wald. (photo credit: Dean La Prairie)        
      
Piano Diaries

Written and Performed by Peter Saltzman  
Directed by Edwin Wald
at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map)
thru July 6  |  tickets: $10-$17   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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More music, less navel gazing

     

Peter Saltzman writes and stars in his one-man show "Piano Diaries," directed by Edwin Wald.

    
Salt Muse Inc. presents
    
Piano Diaries

Review by Catey Sullivan 

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you’re going to spend 75 minutes talking about yourself to a captive audience, you darn well better give said audience has a reason to care. Otherwise, you’re going to come across as pretentious, self-indulgent and boorish. With Piano Diaries, self-described "musical philosopher" Peter Saltzman falls squarely in the "otherwise" camp. As the author and the star of this one man show, Saltzman presumes a level of audience interest that is never earned.

Peter Saltzman in Piano Diaries, Salt Muse Inc and Athenaeum TheatreThat presumption isn’t the only major problem with Piano Diaries. Comprised of autobiographical ramblings, punctuated by jaw-droppingly amateurish video projections and interspersed with keyboard stylings that share an aesthetic with the kind of music you might hear piped into a dentist’s waiting room, Piano Diaries doesn’t play well for a number of reasons. Under the helm of director Edwin Wald, it also lacks both a dramatic arc and a compelling leading man. Since it’s a one-man show, the latter issue is particularly glaring.

Saltzman launches his recitation with some metaphysical babble about being and nothingness and the void from which creation springs. He may be trying to link music with physics, but what comes across is a preamble that has more in common with Anne Hathaway’s Oscar-acceptance speech than with anything Stephan Hawking or Carl Saigon might ruminate on. As generic images of stars and space loom on a screen behind Saltzman, the performer hones in on an introductory line with the potential to strike dread in the hearts of those who know there is still over an hour of the show left to endure. That line? "My journey begins at 16. With a dream."

Unless you’re Sigmund Freud, listening to other people describe their dreams is generally about as interesting as watching beige paint dry on an architecturally insignificant structure. (It doesn’t help matters that Saltzman actually includes a segment with Freud in the production, a monster-mouthed projection of the analyst ostensibly helping the performer work through his issues with music. )

But long before Freud shows up, Saltzman goes into a detailed explication of his dream and his "journey" in search of…..well, in search of what isn’t exactly clear. It has something to do with jazz, composition, context, and an education that saw him attending a handful of colleges and universities across the country. Saltzman might not intend it, but the story of his artistic search comes from a place of unmistakable privilege and entitlement. Presumably, the audience is supposed to empathize with Saltzman’s struggle to find his true artistic self. But it’s tough to empathize when the artist makes himself sound like a dilettante skipping through higher education at some of the best schools in the country.

The core of Saltzman’s story deals with his struggle to find context for "homeless" music, or to weave a story into the jazz, pop, classical and original music that he’s studied and performed for most of his life. In his program notes, Saltzman explains that that he’s aiming for a "literary-musical hybrid" with Piano Diaries. The trouble is that neither the musical or the literary aspect of the show are particularly compelling. He performs more than two dozen song snippets during the show, but these interludes are so truncated that the audience never has a chance to become adequately immersed in them.

By constantly interrupting his playing with stories from his life, Saltzman fails to give his playing the showcase he obviously believes it deserves.

The show is also hampered by a series of truly bizarre video projections. Saltzman frequently converses to portraits of great composers who have had their mouths photo-shopped out and replaced by cartoonish lips and teeth that open and close to create a herky-jerky, distractingly weird semblance of speaking. Director Wald is credited with the videography, which has all the polish of the special effects in an Ed Wood movie. It’s possible the campy projections were intentional, an extension of Saltzman’s statement that "Classical music now is basically museum music."

Saltzman musical resume is not unimpressive. His compositions have been performed by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, and published by Oxford University Press. He’s also released three albums. Piano Diaries is not a showcase for his talent so much as it is for his propensity for naval gazing.

  
Rating: ★½
  
   

Piano Diaries continues through July 6th at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $10-$17, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at PianoDiaries.com(Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission)

Photos by Dean La Prairie 


     

artists

cast

Peter Saltzman

behind the scenes

Edwin Wald (director, production design, videography), Peter Saltzman (performer, writer, producer, video editing, music recording and editing), Mike Goebel (lights, stage manager), Michael Stults (sound design, projections), John Olson (marketing, PR), Eric Martin (graphic design), Alden Pianos (piano provider), Dean La Prairie (photos)

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Category: Athenauem, Catey Sullivan, New Work, One-Man Show, Video, World Premier, YouTube

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