By Austin Kaiser
“Clara; Confessions” is the story of 19th century Romantic composer Clara Schumann, written and performed by Viktoriya Papayani. Clara’s father encouraged her, at first supportively and then abusively, to become a concert pianist. “She has as much strength as six men,” he said. When she married another composer, her jealous father renounced her, and her husband eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. Clara had six children, and outlived four of them.
Ms. Papayani is herself a talented pianist, and she underscores Clara’s monologues, vividly expressing her anger, surprise, humor, and doubt with music. Ms. Papayani is also a wonderful actress, ably portraying both sides of conversations between Clara and her father. Her father had a German accent and over enunciated his “h” sounds. “ClaHra, playing with your friends is a waHste of time,” he said.
The show chronologically depicts scenes from Clara’s life, though it was hard to know what to focus on, what the details were adding up to, and what was being foreshadowed. Clara, her father, and her husband stayed much the same. The men were awful, and wanted to keep Clara dependent. She was too insecure to realize that she was more talented than both men, and needed neither. Yet she accepted her fate in stride: the pregnancies forced on her, her father stealing her diary, and her schizophrenic husband. Her lack of growth or pursuit of change hindered the drama.
In one very entertaining scene, Clara was pressured by promoters to play music that was more popular. This meant theatrical, furious playing with lots of key banging and wild gestures. She balked and screamed that promoters wanted to see a gladiator fight that resulted in a performer’s fingers bleeding. Because the villains of the piece remained villainous throughout, I can’t say that the scenes were very suspenseful or revelatory. Clara’s father arranged for her to go on multi month piano tours, to keep her away from her boyfriend. After many years, she told her father that she would plan her own tours. The father disowned and sued her, and we did not hear from him again. Reunited with her boyfriend, she found that he had become controlling. As a composer, he insisted on silence while he worked, and forbade Clara from playing the piano at home. She became rusty and lost confidence in her playing. The scenes of their marriage were hard to watch; he said awful things and she took them. I kept waiting for her to say, “I don’t need you. I make the money.” Or “You have a mental illness and need to seek help.” But no such conversation took place.
Of course, you cannot change history – these were the real circumstances of Clara Schumann’s life. Her story deserves to be told. Clara was fascinating and should be given posthumous respect. But the play’s pacing and action could use variety, and tension and intrigue must be roused with the promise of change. Although Clara was a product of her time, she harbored exciting, independent thoughts, even if she only rarely acted on them.
Written and Performed by Viktoriya Papayani
Nov. 10 at 4pm
Director: Schnele Wilson
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
AUSTIN KAISER is a writer with an expertise in art and the creative process. His writing is about improving your imagination and exercising your empathy muscle. Kaiser is currently writing a book called, “100 Questions Every Artist Should Have The Answers To.” His other book, “How To Go Viral & Put Wings On Ideas: A Book For Content Creators & Young Artists,” explains how ideas travel and which ideas travel best. More at www.medium.com/@KaiserMane.