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LOU'S VIEWS: Hahn for the record books

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Lou Harry


This week, emptying the notebook on recent work at the ISO, the Phoenix and the IRT.

Who says you can't have a do-over at a symphony concert?

Virtuoso violinist Hilary Hahn called for just that after being lost shortly into the brutal third movement of Jennifer Higdon's world premiere violin concerto (which she played without sheet music) in the Feb. 7 concert with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. The typically animated Mario Venzago (at one point, I swear he was guiding the patrons in the boxes to play louder) and the ISO players willingly backed up with Hahn to the movement's starting point. And to the audience's pleasure, she returned with a fire that ignited the piece.

Not that things were going badly. In fact, Hahn expertly handled the challenges presented by Higdon's tough-on-initial-listening work. The first movement, "1726," seemed to play with sound more than it committed to forward motion, putting Hahn in the position of coaxing impressive but unpleasant sounds from her instrument. The second, calmer movement was a relief but not a distinct or memorable one. The final, "Fly Forward," seemed to shake off any ties to its predecessors and, instead, offer its soloist a series of challenges that, post-mulligan, Hahn not only reached but exceeded, leaving questions as to how much of the thunderous reaction of the audience was for the work rather than the violinist.

An appreciative Hahn, expressionless through most of the work, embraced the reaction and rewarded the crowd with two solo encores, the Prelude to Bach's "Partita in E Major" and Schubert's "Erlking." Both were jaw-dropping not only to the audience but also to the mesmerized orchestra players. Their bliss was tangible.

The key idea of "To Kill a Mockingbird"—you don't hurt the innocent—is also one of the key challenges to writing about Indiana Repertory Theatre's production of the show.

I could dodge the issue and just write about the trial scene that takes up the majority of the second act. Here, the players shine, particularly Melissa Fenton as an intense, sad, feral Mayella Ewell and Frederick Marshall as a knowing judge (one of a trio of memorable roles he plays). As Atticus Finch, Mark Goetzinger avoids archetyping and, instead, shows us the smarts and the sadness and the humanity of being a savvy lawyer and good man who knows even his best efforts won't lead to triumph. The story is played out on yet another smart, functional, attractive Robert Koharchik set, which, in its paint-peeled textures, avoids being literal while effectively serving as both a courtroom and a rural streetscape.

But anyone with previous knowledge of Harper Lee's classic novel or Robert Mulligan's impeccable film, knows that the story—a big, adult story—is filtered through the eyes and sensibility of a kid. If you don't love her, laugh with her, and ache for her, a vital window to the tale is closed. That is the challenge any production of the play faces.

The character, in the book, is between 5 and 9 years old. Those are some small shoulders to carry the weight of a play. So I'm sympathetic. And I'll move on.

• The Phoenix Theatre presents "The Seafarer" through Feb. 28. For more information, call 635-PLAY or visit www. phoenixtheatre.org.

• The Indiana Repertory Theatre presents "To Kill a Mockingbird" through Feb. 21. For more information, call 635-5252 or visit www.irtlive.org.

The Phoenix Theatre's production of Conor McPherson's "The Seafarer," playing through Feb. 28, has much to recommend it, including a commanding performance from Rich Komenich as the demanding, recently blinded Richard, a richly detailed set from James Gross, and well-modulated pacing that I'll credit to director Erik Allen Friedman.

There's also the script, by hot playwright Conor McPherson, a talent adept at creative meandering and whose stories get from point A to point B as directly as that of a drunken man trying to cross a road in a windstorm. He lets the characters live, not following a route to pre-planned revelations, and if they are sometimes maddening, they are also by turns—and often simultaneously—funny and moving.

With five inebriants weaving their comments, observations and stories together, the plot can't help but take a back stool. But these side trips, not the familiar deal-with-the-devil framework, are what make the land-locked "Seafarer" worthwhile.

Ultimately, there are two things I can't shake from the Phoenix production, one negative and one positive.

The first is the frustration that the main character's fate isn't determined by his own choices or actions. Passivity can take its toll on even the best of buildups, and I wanted Sharkey (Doug Johnson), a man attempting redemption, to somehow have some say in his outcome.

The second element—actually two elements—are Sharkey's eyes. Beyond world-weary, they reveal not just a life lived hard, but, more important, the impossibly thin bridge between unthinkable regret and nearly unimaginable hope. They start and end the production on just the right, haunting notes.

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