Tuesday, August 23, 2022

"Hershey Felder: Chopin in Paris" ★ ★ ★

Let me say at the outset that I am a pianist, as well as a lover of Chopin. I, too, left an acorn on his grave in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, as a gift from my mother, under whose piano bench I spent a good portion of my childhood listening to her play many of the Mazurkas and Polonaises that Hershey Felder performs during his Theatreworks production of "Hershey Felder: Chopin in Paris." The music triggers in me nothing but happiness and nostalgia. 

Sadly, this time, the music is not enough.  Felder's attempt to recreate a fictional piano lesson given by the composer in 1848 is a reach without enough reward. Although he plays with both grace and power, we can never disassociate Chopin, the portrayed composer, from Felder, the actor. And his attempts to answer questions from the audience, in the costume and supposed French accent of Chopin, feels less like Fredryk Chopin than Hershey Felder giving a symposium on Hershey Felder.

Parts are fascinating. Felder's explanation of a Funeral March written for his deceased sister has a great deal of soul, as do his erudite portrayals of Chopin's early life. We loved the story of La Valse de L'Adieu, written as the composer has been dumped by George Sand, as well as a quite astonishing tale about what happened to Chopin's heart after his death. That heart has been around the block. Of course, this is one thing with which reviewers, being heartless, do not have to concern themselves.

Above all, we do not understand the point of answering questions from the audience. Are we at a theatrical performance or in a lecture hall? The performer starts out as Chopin and ends up as Felder. Who is he? For us, please, keep the Fourth Wall up and allow us to us make the decision for ourselves. In the meantime, more glorious music, Sir, if you would not mind. 

RATINGS ★ ★ ★ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog awards "Hershey Felder: Chopin in Paris" Three Stars. A Hershey Felder show is always worth seeing just to hear the man play with such astounding dynamic range. For us, however, the conceit may be wearing a little thin. Is he Chopin? Gershwin? Beethoven? No. He is always Hershey Felder, and he and his audiences seem to like it that way. 


"Hershey Felder: Chopin and Paris"
Mountain View Center for the Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain view
Through Sept. 11, 2022