"The double bass is far and away the most important instrument in the orchestra," we're grandly told at the outset. "Nothing functions without us." (Forget classical music. Where, we're asked, would Jaws be without the double bass?) There's more: "An orchestra without a double bass is inconceivable. It is the essential orchestral instrument." But by evening's end, the double bass is exposed as "more an obstacle than an instrument." In time, the musician confides his unrequited love for a soprano named Sarah to whom he's never spoken. His life is a torment. He knows that he can never woo her with his talent, for he cannot play a single note on the double bass that she can sing.

And that's pretty much the gist of it. As invisibly directed by Philip Boehm, The Double Bass appears to be an evening of modest ambitions. There is some talk about how an orchestra is an image of society, but the script doesn't belabor that analogy. There's also an eerie sense at one point that the ubiquitous double bass might assume its own spooky life, the way ventriloquist's dummies become real in scary films like Dead of Night and Magic. But that too proves to be the sort of ruse more in the mind of the viewer than in the text.

Rory Lipede (front) and Michelle Hand in Mustard Seed's Fires in the Mirror.
John Lamb
Rory Lipede (front) and Michelle Hand in Mustard Seed's Fires in the Mirror.

Details

Fires in the Mirror
Through February 27 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Center Theatre, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton.
Tickets are $15 to $25 (free for students, $10 for seniors).
To learn about "Pay What You Can or Pay With a Can" Thursday performances, call 314-719-8060 or visit www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

The Double Bass
Through February 7 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Boulevard; February 11-14 at 305 South Skinker Boulevard (at Fauquier Drive).
Tickets are $25 ($15 for students, $20 for seniors).
Call 314-863-4999 or visit www.upstreamtheater.org.

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We're left with a story of passion, and passion stifled, yet this passion is channeled through a character of supreme civility. Because J. Samuel Davis is one of the most affable actors in town, it's easy to feel empathy for both Davis and his alter ego. After an atypical outburst, the musician veritably apologizes by saying, "I need to monitor my tone." It's character-driven lines like that which remind us that stories about unrequited love are a dime a dozen, but stories about unrequited musicians are not so common. "A beautiful voice has an intelligence about it," Davis tells us. It's the intelligence that gives The Double Bass its voice.

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