Russell Headlines Two Staged Readings At Chautauqua

CHAUTAUQUA – Television, nightclub and journalism star Mark Russell headlined the cast of two staged readings Saturday morning in what has become a tradition on the last Saturday of a Chautauqua season: a presentation with local actors of plays by Mayville resident David Zinman.

This year, Zinman shared the authorship honors with a fellow student in the Chautauqua classes in playwriting, to create a program about symphony orchestras titled “Music, Music.”

Zinman wrote and directed the first play, which bore the title “The Two Mr. Bernsteins.” Caitlyn Kamminga, a member of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and a student, with Zinman, in the classes of visiting playwright Molly Smith Metzler, wrote the second feature, “Basses Are Loaded,” which was directed by Bob McClure.

Zinman’s play is based on a true experience which happened to him some years ago, at Chautauqua. Zinman shares the same name as Conductor David Zinman, who at that time was music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. At a fundraiser for Chautauqua, the opportunity was being auctioned off to conduct the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. The reporter Zinman wound up on the podium, instead of the conductor Zinman.

In the play, the reporter and the conductor are both named Leonard Bernstein, although the reporter pronounces his name “Bernsteen,” and the conductor famously pronounced it “Bernstine.” Mark Russell portrayed the gutsy reporter who got himself into the conducting gig and soon found himself on the spot to perform, sending him to his namesake for help in fulfilling his assignment.

The physical comedy of his attempts at conducting earned a great many laughs, in itself.

The rest of the cast were Jane Stirnaman as the reporter’s wife, Carl Badger as the musician Bernstein, Monte Thompson as the local orchestra’s regular conductor, and Alice O’Grady who narrated and read stage directions for both plays, since the plays weren’t fully staged.

Kamminga’s play may have destroyed the illusions of those who cling to the belief that symphony orchestras are a last bastion of civilization. The play insists that orchestra musicians fall into the same trap as virtually every other profession. Those who have great experience lose their passion for their profession and become clock watching, time servers. Those with young, special gifts in the profession are over-confident and trample over the dignity of men who have known and participated in greatness, since before the prodigies were born.

Don Greenhouse and David Tabish played experienced bass players, who have been with the orchestra for decades. Christopher Corporandy portrayed the young man, fresh out of Juilliard, who has been hired to perform as the principal chair, over the heads of the veterans. Ralph Walton, with a change of hats, played three different conductors who led the orchestra in the period of the play.

The playwright clearly knows her subject matter, and her dialogue is realistic and effective. The play is too long and too repetitive, but if she can do some shaping, I think she has a very effective piece on her hands.

Both plays drew many laughs from the audience which filled Fletcher Music Hall. The tradition has become a popular closing to a busy season.