Stage preview: PICT offers love triangle set to music

By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Post-Gazette photo of Martin GilesEditor’s note: In the original version of this story, the names of Gianni Downs and Jesse Sedon-Essad were misspelled.

The title of the play in question is taken from Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9, also known as “The Kreutzer Sonata” and best known for its grueling violin part and emotional scope. The passion inherent in the music was a leaping-off point for Leo Tolstoy, who created a novella in 1890 about a man’s struggle to resolve feelings of lust and marital fidelity. It was promptly banned as indecent by authorities in Russia and the United States, but it later inspired works for stage and screen, including a 2008 movie based on the love triangle at its core.

Nancy Harris adapted the novella into a one-act monologue for the Gate Theatre in London in 2009 and a 2012 revival that traveled to La MaMa in New York City. That production starred Hilton McRae as Pozdnyshev, a man whose train ride becomes a path to confession. As Ben Brantley of The New York Times described it, “The allure of tales told in transit is as ancient and enduring as Homer. And it’s an appeal that’s exploited with deliciously old-fashioned verve … in ‘The Kreutzer Sonata.’ ”

‘The Kreutzer Sonata’

Where: Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre at the Henry Heymann Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial, Oakland.

When: Thursday through June 22. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays; also 7 p.m. June 18 and 2 p.m. June 22. For talkbacks, lectures and specials, visit

Tickets: $25-$48 ($20 age 26 and younger with valid ID); or 412-561-6000.

“Passengers talk about how trains have a peculiar effect on people. It seems to loosen their tongues,” said Martin Giles, who will play the talkative man on the train in a Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre production directed by Alan Stanford. The veteran actor/director has done solo shows for PICT before — a couple by Samuel Beckett and “St. Nicholas” by Conor McPherson — but came to this with little information or time, replacing Canadian actor Richard McMillan, who was ill.

He was offered the role in the midst of starring in Quantum Theatre’s production of the avant-garde “Dream of Autumn” and had no qualms about taking on a one-man show, which he finds to be “enjoyable, challenging and strange, and not like anything else.” The character is a bit of stretch for the veteran actor, in that “I’m often the comedian in the sense that I usually play boobs or nerds or crazy guys. This gives me a lot more emotional range, and it’s psychologically really complicated. It’s a great character study. Tolstoy is so complete.”

“The Kreutzer Sonata” has other built-in attractions.

“I’d never heard of this adaptation, [and] I read it and thought it was very lovely and interesting. And I love Beethoven, he’s my hero. It’s great to listen to Beethoven every day,” Mr. Giles said.

Music and emotions are intertwined as the protagonist, Pozdnyshev, tells the story of his marriage and its unraveling. The title composition is played by his wife and an old friend as part of a parlor concert for friends, tying together the major players in Pozdnyshev’s story. “It’s Beethoven — it’s romantic, it’s turbulent, it’s beautiful,” the actor said. “It’s a little erotic … it’s the kind of piece you listen to and afterward you go, ‘Whoa.’ ”

For PICT’s production, accomplished violinist Juan Jaramillo and pianist Alaine Fink will provide the music, working with sound designer and composer Elizabeth Atkinson. Mr. Giles and Mr. Stanford are also working with set designer Gianni Downs and projection designer Jesse Sedon-Essad to give the actor an environment for the monologue and the music to thrive. Mr. Stanford is directing for the first time since taking leadership of PICT this season, replacing Andrew Paul. He most recently directed “The School for Scandal” for Point Park University’s Conservatory and has directed and acted often in recent years for the company.

While working closely with his director and the rest of the creative team, Mr. Giles also was reading Tolstoy’s original story. He noted how well the playwright had focused in on the storyteller and the two key threads — the music and love triangle — from a novella populated with numerous characters.

The roller coaster of emotions also remains intact from book to stage, as Pozdnyshev reveals “how goofy and foolish we are in that situation where we get possessed by love and music,” Mr. Giles said.

“There are all these interesting layers of how he exists in what’s basically just a guy telling a long story.”

Sharon Eberson: or 412-263-1960.
First Published May 27, 2013 12:00 am