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`Monday After Miracle'; Russell Sherman; `Misalliance'; `Capuletti'

Never have I been shown the inner workings of a composition so profoundly revealing as in Russell Sherman's playing of the Haydn and Schumann. Sherman has broad, highly developed hands, which allow him to bridge that gap between merely flashy `performing' pianists and `interpretive' artists. ``Monday After the Miracle,'' William Gibson's continuing saga of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, is given a fine production at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in their new Lowell home.

In ``The Miracle Worker,'' Gibson showed how the iron-willed Annie drew Helen out of her world of silent darkness. Here he picks up where Helen is going to college. A young socialist, John Macy, falls in love with Annie and gets her to marry him. The play covers the struggles the three of them encounter as they create a life together.

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Helen is Annie's lifework, and she warns John that there's not going to be much left over for him. She's right. Tender, infinitely patient with Helen, she is often abrupt and prickly with John. Given that, however, it is a surprisingly resilient marriage.

There are some flaws in the play. There is a prying, peephole curiosity about the love lives of these two women, ``withering on the vine.'' Gaps in logic make the play teeter occasionally on the edge of unbelievability. And the part of John is underwritten -- especially his ``workers unite'' ranting. The play's short, choppy scenes cut the momentum, and the slow scene changes don't help.

But the acting, after a jerky start, is first-rate. Julia Murray handles both the abrasive and tender sides of Annie with gusto. Sally Prager does a beautiful job of re-creating Helen's guttural voice and giving her a head-high, birdlike dignity. Jeremiah Kissel does well as the put-upon John. Ted Davis directs sensitively. Through Feb. 10.

Pianist Russell Sherman -- who played Jordan Hall Sunday -- is something of a local favorite, having headed the New England Conservatory's piano department for 10 years. Within the intellectual climate of Boston, his sage and proficient approach to interpretation -- deftly showing us individual threads rather than just fabric -- is highly applauded as the result of years of artistic evaluation. Outside detractors call his playing an extreme adaptation of the supposedly thoughtful, incisive German method: arhythmic, tortured, and overly brainy. Though he has good hands and an adroit musical mind, they say, he has no clean attack, muddies his pedaling, and ``wipes the keys with his fingers.''

I found his program of Haydn (Variations in F minor), Schumann (``Kreisleriana''), Liszt (Sonetto 104), Schubert/Liszt (``Soir'ee de Vienne''), and Mozart/Lizst (``R'eminiscences de Don Juan'') to be somewhere in between.

Never have I heard the inner workings of a composition so profoundly revealed as in the Haydn and Schumann. Sherman has broad, highly developed hands, which allow him to bridge that gap between merely flashy ``performing'' pianists and ``interpretive'' artists who discover all the inner voices but don't have the dexterity or independence in the third, fourth, and fifth fingers to articulate them. To see such a union of ability and understanding is a rare joy.

On the other hand, there are times when the pianist slows tempo, bends rhythm, or toys with phrasing to excruciating effect on the listener. Mr. Sherman needs to learn that too much dissection, like that of the worm in biology lab, kills in the process.

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When he more accurately, more regularly finds that supreme moment to withdraw the scalpel, he will rise further from the relative obscurity of the back rank of pianist's pianists -- those whose keyboard expositions attempt to indulge only those in the know.

After Trinity Square Repertory Company's fine ``Tartuffe,'' I hoped for an equally great ``Misalliance.'' I was disappointed. One of George Bernard Shaw's greatest characteristics is his moral passion -- it's what transforms ``Misalliance'' from a talky play about issues into one that crackles with vitality. The play is long on talk and short on plot -- it takes on marriage, parent-child relationships, women's rights, and the importance of meaningful work -- but it's also exuberant. This production is a bit flat. Ford Rainey (Papa Tarleton) lacks the girth, the vigor, and the tradesmanlike demeanor needed. His comic timing is off -- Tarleton's constant exhortations to ``Read Ibsen!'' and `` Read Jefferson!'' aren't the ongoing gag they can be. Richard Ferrone, as Julius Baker, has a poor Cockney accent, and his shaking, gun-holding hand doesn't match his sturdy voice. Stephanie Dunnam (Hypatia) and Margot Dionne (Lena) have a nice sense of aplomb, however.

Director Philip Minor's staging is awkward. The actors look lost on this big stage, and they talk to each other across the room, with their hands unaccounted for. This production is just not up to Trinity's usually high standards. Through Feb. 10.

I went prepared to be at my most critical, but found very little to criticize with Boston Concert Opera's performance of ``I Capuletti e i Montecchi'' Sunday in Symphony Hall. The company relies solely on the quality of the opera and the interpretation of the singers to move story and audience, since, as concert opera, it performs without sets, costumes, or dramatic staging. The principal singers simply stand at the front of the stage.

Vincenzo Bellini's opera and the principals proved themselves equal to the task. The opera follows the feud of the Capulets and the Montagues in 13th-century Verona.

The role of Romeo is played en travesti, beautifully performed by mezzo-soprano Patricia Schuman. Early on she proved her vocal mastery, projecting a series of flawless notes above and beyond chorus and orchestra, in ``La tremenda ultrice spada.'' Her duets with Giulietta (soprano Janice Hall) were examples of seamless singing.

Miss Hall's performance was equally good, filling the grand chamber with a lovely textured sound and retaining vocal integrity on the highest notes. Tenor Randall Outland's Tebaldo was slightly shallow dramatically, but was balanced by his beautiful singing. Baritone Robert Honeysucker, Giulietta's father, Capellio, also sang well, although he could have been a bit more menacing.

Artistic director David Stockton deserves great praise for weaving orchestra, chorus, and principals together in a masterly performance. Bravo!

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