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Musicophilia

Published on
February 6


There is a moment in this play undulating betwixt and between memory and dream. I will not desecrate it with description, it has to be lived. For this, bravo. For this, go. It exemplified the power of theatre, the magic of the artificial to transcend the real. It was beautiful. That moment reached an articulation of the density of experience all too familiar to us, but rarely represented. It managed a compelling transmission of the complex fusion of our emotional, sensorial, and imaginative experience in one. It gave it life. If you can be vulnerable and present, if you trust the artists before you, you will be transported. I could almost hear colors, but it was more than that.

Meta Theatre Munich’s Musicophilia is an adaptation of an eponymous book by neuroscientist Oliver Sacks about case studies of people whose musicality is affected by a neurological disease. Their production presents the arguments and examples that anyone with a curious imagination would want to receive from the book. Why are our brains preoccupied with music? What new relationships to music form when conditions in the brain change? It is nourishing to consider these alternative relations to music to understand and expand our own relationship.

Meta Theatre Munich captured what attracts us in Oliver Sacks’s book and transformed our imaginative desire into vicarious experience. Through the swells of music and the pulses of light, we could almost inhabit that world. At least we were a lot closer than we might be in our bedrooms.

Musicophilia was an emotional journey unfolding in a perpetual present. Case studies flowed without chronology or theme from one to the next without any more transition than we demand of a change in melody. From the peculiar delight in perfect pitch, to the envious enchantment of tasting intervals, to the annoying empathy of songs stuck in your head for days, to the depressing possibility of feeling pain - or worse, nothing - with every note. There was no room for inappropriate romantization, only the wide range of good or bad possibility.

Our guiding narrator played Oliver Sacks and a singer played all of the patients while a cellist and a violinist would occasionally embody the role of music. The audience couldn’t do much distinguishing of place or time or character, all our understanding was imagined and suggested, so the play flowed on in a space where the past and the future were irrelevant, and music itself could be both setting and character.

The play leaves us with dementia patient who is suddenly able to communicate with her caretaker by singing. Our faith in music gives us hope that the self is not gone. You think it will last. And it doesn’t. That moment captured the unpredictability, the unknowability of the mysteries of the brain and its love for music. I left heartbroken and awed, just like I imagine Oliver Sacks feels.

Musicophilia was originally produced in Germany, and some of that was retained with tastefully integrated subtitles for certain lines. It is such a rare privilege to see international theatre. The monopoly of English separates audiences from the remarkable pieces created elsewhere. I am so grateful that LaMaMa could feature this production and that it in New York it has the chance to find an audience. If you are seeking to reflect on your experience of music, Musicophilia is running until Saturday February 7th at 7:30pm in the First Floor Theatre at LaMaMa. http://lamama.org/musicophilia