An actor walks onstage at the beginning of her one-woman show and picks-up a piece of music. She reads the name at the top. She announces that it’s a piece composed by “F. Mendelssohn.” Then she asks, “which one?” This is a good question. The actor is Jennifer Vosters. She’s playing Mendelssohn. Both of them: Fannie and Felix. They were kindred spirits...literal siblings who worked together. As Vosters enters the stage, though, it isn’t entirely clear which one she’s playing. As a part of Milwaukee Fringe Festival, she’s performing the debut of Songs Without Words--a written and performed by Vosters. It’s a deeply engaging biographical narrative about brother and sister who were both great German composers from the early 19th century.
The sheet music that Mendelssohn picks-up at the opening of the drama isn’t alone. There’s a large spread of music elegantly strewn across the floor. A single music stand rests in the center of it all. There’s a piano bench. Vosters wears simple black. There’s a conductor’s baton...and a hell of a lot of drama tied up in many layers of complexity as Vosters works her way through a tightly-woven narrative about two siblings, their lives and their artistic endeavors. It speaks a great deal to those who love classical music, but Vosters speaks to universals in art, life and familial love that make it a one-hour journey anyone can take.
Vosters modulates through moments of triumph, anxiety and uncertainty drawn from the lives of a couple of people who were acclaimed artists of their day. Felix was recognized far more for his accomplishments than Fanny was for hers, but Vosters maintains a very textured approach to the understanding of both composers that respects the complexity of the early 19th century era that they inhabited.
Vosters’ writing occasionally edges into the poetic as brother works to live-up to the potential of both himself AND his sister in an era when she would not have been entirely recognized for her own achievements. Eventually, Fanny DOES receive some recognition for her work and even manages to have a few compositions published. Vosters’ delicate handling of Felix’s feelings at the success of his sister are some of the more meticulously sophisticated moments for Vosters as actor and playwright.
Not every moment lives up to the complexity. of the lives of two composers, but Vosters' charisma holds the drama together even in those rare moments that might feel a bit forced in and around the edges of the narrative. Overall Vosters has crafted a remarkable piece that explores a brother/sister relationship that also examines the challenges all artists face.
Vosters’ Songs Without Words was debuted in a single performance on the Fringe, but she’s planning on doing more work with it. Judging from the reception that she received on her debut, the show would likely do VERY well with the right audiences. It’s an intimate portrayal of brother and sister that reaches very deeply into the nature of art and the core of human experience without skating along the superficial platitudes that so often accompany dramas about artists.
All-in-all...it's very powerful stuff. Someone should get ahold of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Though a larger venue would rob Vosters of some of the immediacy of the drama, it'd be really cool to see Songs Without Words accompanied and punctuate by the MSO performing work by the Mendelssohns. It'd be a hell of a concert. Seriously. Get Vosters in Bradley Symphony Center with the MSO. It'd be breathtaking.
For more information on Songs Without Words, check out Vosters’ Instagram Page for the show. The debut of Vosters’ show was a part of the Milwaukee Fringe Festival, which continues in and around the Marcus Center through Saturday night. For more information, visit the Fringe Fest online.