Giving the Accordion the Spotlight in “There’s An Accordion in My Closet”

Lead Article, Reviews

By Cynthia Darling
 
One look at the stage, and we know “There’s an Accordion in My Closet” will entertain. The show depicts the life of LynnMarie, a five‑time Grammy‑nominated musician, and the stage is chock full of a successful musician’s paraphernalia. From cowboy boots, accordions, a white bearskin rug, a wardrobe of colorful performing outfits, half‑packed boxes, a table, and several chairs, the scenery begins to tell the story. Then, LynnMarie steps out onto the stage. From there on out, we become privy to intimate narrative, polka music, and LynnMarie’s spirit that shines brightly.
 
One of the most delightful things about the show is LynnMarie’s ongoing dialogue with her accordion. Yes, that’s right. She talks to her accordion, and her accordion talks right back. It is LynnMarie’s faithful companion. Throughout the show, she questions whether her commitment to her music, specifically polka music on the accordion, caused the deterioration of her marriage or saved her life. It is probably both, and thus, LynnMarie shows us the complexity at the heart of this sunny, sad and deeply heartfelt show.
 
Sure, the show could fall into cliché, like a good country song: a woman fights heartbreak and comes out on the other side. But LynnMarie turns that trope on its head. Instead of saccharine‑sweet lyrics, we get bold, honest, in‑your‑face statements of truth about raising a special needs child, body image issues, writing a letter that goes viral, and surviving an alcoholic parent. Early in the show, she accidentally receives a telltale text from her husband’s mistress: “Thank you for last night.” LynnMarie may be heartbroken ‑ life doesn’t mete out difficulty neatly or in a balanced manner ‑ but from that moment on, she decides always to tell the truth. “These days I’m all about real,” she says.
 
She flashes back to the beginning of her marriage, and to her childhood in a household with a hardworking mother and an alcoholic father. Her father, she states, “would give you the shirt off his back, and then he’d turn around and tell you you looked like shit in it.” That same father taught her to love the accordion and her Slovenian heritage.
 
LynnMarie truly comes alive when she plays her accordion. Her eyes seem to sing right along with her. She narrates as she plays, and the audience sings along with ease. LynnMarie’s golden smile is part of her stage presence and charm. As she tells us about wrenching life events, her intermittent polka performances are veritable sunshine. It is no accident that embracing this smile was something her father taught her: always smile and keep smiling, no matter the pain behind it.
 
Interestingly, the focus of much of the show ‑ what to do about her husband’s infidelity ‑ does not produce a husband‑and‑wife showdown until late in the show. This is significant. The real battle is not with her husband ‑ it’s with herself, as she assesses her past decisions. A cover of “Squeeze Box” by The Who is an unexpected and delightful moment, as she describes being a naïve young woman who “had no idea that the slang for my own vagina was ‘box.’” She put the song on her first album, SqueezeBox.
 
A powerful refrain echoes her newfound knowledge of herself: “I knew that I knew that I knew that I knew” describes her intuition about childbirth, her several miscarriages, and her full‑term pregnancy with James, her child born with special needs.
 
From considering suicide to proclaiming her love for Lexapro, LynnMarie follows a sometimes soft, sometimes louder voice that guides her. That voice may be her heart, God, her son, or her accordion. By the end, the voice that consistently saves her is her own.
 
As a struggling mother of a young boy whose special needs overwhelm her, LynnMarie is given the same message by three strangers at Sears: “Don’t live in the future, let go of your fear, live in this moment right now. You’re going to feel more love than you can imagine.” This segues into her song, “He Will Never Be,” about her son’s seeming deficits being the very qualities that will make him a compassionate person.
 
At one point, LynnMarie gives into despair about the difficulties of caring for her son: “I just wish James was just like me.” According to her, God answers with an all‑out belly laugh: “Are you fucking kidding me?”
 
Eventually, after making her break from her husband, she meets Eddie, a new love. Eddie loves music and James. Eddie is Slovenian. And the crowning glory? “He looks sexy as hell in lederhosen,” she smiles.
 
Is it surprising to see this tale of self‑improvement and learning to listen to her own voice end happily with a new marriage? I think no. The beauty of this show is that it embraces everything ‑ the messy, the downright terrible, the beautiful, and the sweet; pure heart and pure truth. And that’s the lesson of LynnMarie’s show and her music. Tell it all. Keep on singing. And the heart will follow.

 
There’s An Accordion in My Closet
Written and Performed by LynnMarie
Lighting Design by Katie Trotter
November 19 at 9 PM
Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theatre Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
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CYNTHIA DARLING is a writer and teacher living in Hell’s Kitchen. A writer for NAfME’s Teaching Music magazine for many years, she also wrote for New York Family magazine. She is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing with the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Louisiana Literature, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Wanderlust Journal.
 

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