A disturbing comedy: Theater debuts Paganini to enthusiastic responses

Nanditha Nagavishnu

When the lights first dimmed and the notes of Paganini’s violin began in its minor key with uncomfortable clarity, as though we were thrown into the middle of a conflict, “Paganini” introduced itself as one of its own temperamental characters. It wouldn’t make efforts to accommodate its audience, instead it would follow some internal logic that doesn’t worry about coherence.

“Paganini” was the first of its type for Rock Hill theater, being a comedy that needed tragic acting, and with such unwieldy, heavy stage sets (also figuratively as the stage is scattered with coffins) and a screenplay that is sometimes crude. It was experimental, in a way.

“Ms. Haney has never in the decade of her career gone, ‘We should do a comedy for our One Act play, I like when people die,’” director Sariea Haney said onstage before the play started. “This is a very different feeling for me as a director and for the kids, and it is so challenging because the entire play is filled with symbolism.”

The first shock is when Paganini chokes his first lover Angelina, played by senior Jo Spence, to death after finding her in bed with a soldier. He is carried away by emotions he didn’t even realize up till then, and even after Angelina’s breath leaves her he stays on the ground denying her death, unsettled by what he did.

Rumors spread about his misfortunes, and when Paganini overhears conversation that he sold his soul he denies it feverishly. Then as he is calming himself down (saying to himself, “I must be calm…I cannot change the past”) he meets Marina, his second pursuit played by senior Margaret Gardizi. Then something unfortunate happens.

In just a few minutes we meet his third lover Antonia, played by senior Lainey Cosgrove, and each one’s loneliness brings them together. Paganini then ends up throwing Antonia out the window repeatedly in a funny but disturbing scene. The rest of his life unfolds to us in absurd events like this, letting us witness Paganini’s descent into madness.

“The ghosts of dead women follow me, rumors follow me,” Paganini laments as he is on the run from his resurrected and vengeful lovers. He tells us he is trying to find salvation, but “Paganini” makes it hard for us to remain hopeful. In the end, “Paganini” leaves us with more questions than resolutions.

The crew of “Paganini” performed in Denton last Saturday for the UIL district meet and advanced to the bi-district level. A final public performance is planned but the date isn’t finalized yet. Keep up with Rock Hill Theatre on their Instagram (@rockhilltheatre) or look on their website for updates.