People can strike up intimate, and often strange, relationships with whatever is closest and usually warmest--a blanket, a pacifier, a puppy, a parent, a human being, a baseball glove, a musical instrument. Rarely a double bass, but it's possible. "The Double Bass," by German playwright Patrick Suskind, is a strange but entertaining play that examines the possibility. It opened last night as an Upstream Theater production at the Kranzberg Theatre, and will run through Feb. 14.
J. Samuel Davis is alone as a man who plays the standup bass in a symphony orchestra. None of this jazz, or rap, "or the anarchy of improvisation" for him. He supposedly owns the instrument, but there are times when it seems to own him. Neither of those leading players has a name. As a matter of fact, the only character with a name is an unseen, unheard mezzo-soprano named Sarah. "That's Sarah with an 'h,'" Davis tells us several times.
Suskind's play, often very funny, was first performed in 1981, and looks at the relationship between man and instrument. Davis, a fine actor who seems to thrive under the direction of Philip Boehm, is excellent in every way. As a single man, close to 36, who has not had sex in at least two years, he finds that the tall, smooth, curvy bass tends to easily--maybe too easily--interfere with the relationship he would like to have with Sarah. But as a man in the third or fourth seat among bassists, he feels as if he does not deserve her, though he loves her, just as Marlon Brando loves the similarly named Stella in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire."
Davis discusses his life, his parents, the non-musical father, the "weak" mother. Suskind opens a door to a long and mysterious psychological road that we can follow down a long and winding primrose path, but he is funnier and more effective with the non-speaking title character and the unseen Sarah. And Davis' early discussion of the bass, and how important it can be to then orchestra, is a highlight. Generally good entertainment.
At the Kranzberg Black Box Theater through Feb. 14