Mrs. K is a piano teacher "in a suburb among suburbs" — the most innocuous of ladies in the most innocuous of settings — and the central character in Julia Cho's The Piano Teacher, currently on the boards at Southern Rep. When we first meet Mrs. K (Peggy Walton-Walker), she's lounging in her rather bare parlor, which is furnished with two armchairs and dominated by an old upright piano, the instrument she used to bring neighborhood children in touch with their musical heritage.
Everything is gentle and genteel — except, perhaps, for that Kafka-esque last name. "My husband saw war and revolution first hand," she says, explaining that she fell in love with him partly out of pity. We never learn his real name, only the shortened alphabetical form. He's been dead for decades. "We had 36 happy years together," says Mrs. K. "I thought of him as a refugee and he was." She seems content, if lonely, in her humdrum existence: watching Dancing with the Stars, nibbling cookies.
Much (perhaps too much) of the play comes in the form of monologues. But Walton-Walker gives a focused, compelling performance. Things pick up when she rummages through the piano bench, takes out an address book and decides to see if she can track down any of her now-grown students. That old address book is the bottle from which she sets free an evil genie — for there was an unknown dark side to her marriage.
Mrs. K manages to locate two of her former students, Mary (Veronica Russell) and Michael (Michael Aaron Santos). As Mrs. K chats with them, she learns some disturbing truths about her late husband.
While waiting her turn at the piano, Mary would do crossword puzzles with Mr. K in the kitchen. It turns out both Mary and Michael hated those sessions in the kitchen with Mr. K — but not for the reasons that might first leap to mind. "He never touched me," Michael admits. All of this took place out of sight and long ago, and the play shows us the consequences coming home to roost.
Under Mark Routhier's direction, the excellent cast bring this troubling, if somewhat stilted drama to life. Michael Duran's set, Joan Long's lighting and Eric Shimelonis' sound are effective. — Dalt Wonk
THRU JUN 13
The Piano Teacher
8 p.m., Thu.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun.
Southern Repertory Theater
The Shops at Canal Place, 365 Canal St., third floor, 522-6545