Hands down, the award for best titular innuendo at this year’s Capital Fringe Festival goes to National Symphony Orchestra cellist Yvonne Caruthers. “In Search of the Perfect G-String” is her revealing one-woman show that is not about shopping for lingerie, but playing the cello. Onstage with her instrument and century old-bow, Caruthers mixes excerpts of music with humorous impersonations and poignant vignettes. The 60-year-old Caruthers also pointedly acknowledges that, throughout her career, comparisons between the cello and a woman’s body have been both an amusing diversion and a sexist curse, like that time a guest conductor accused the NSO strings of sounding like “a bunch of dried-up old women.”
Caruthers, who was breast-feeding twins at the time, took offense.
Her intriguing musical biography begins in western Washington state, where she was introduced to the cello in third grade. By her early teens, Caruthers was tackling the Bach cello suites and planning a career as a professional musician, much to the dismay of her mother, who thought spreading her legs was unladylike, and her father, who said musicians end up addicted to drugs. Clearly, he misunderstood her euphoria. Caruthers suggests — and many musicians and music lovers may concur — that her first trip to Tanglewood was better than losing her virginity. “I fell in love when I was 16, during the summer of ’69,” she says, donning a pair of sparkly pink sunglasses. “At night, we would lie back on the lawn and” — Caruthers pauses to caress herself — listen to Jacqueline du Pre play the Elgar concerto with the Boston Symphony.
Caruthers then took up her bow and began to impersonate the showy, flaxen-haired cellist she idolized, to howls of laughter. She went on to recount the highlight of her studies at the Eastman School of Music: a visit from du Pre’s own mentor, Mstislav Rostropovich. Once the Russian cellist and conductor was exiled, Caruthers’s goal was to join the NSO. And so, it is with great fondness that she quotes Rostropovich throughout the show, sounding like Yoda with a Russian accent. After Saturday’s opening performance, the cellist — a first-time actress — was surrounded by fellow NSO members and associate conductor Emil de Cou. A private showing for the full NSO may be in the works, but for the music-loving general public, there are four more performances, and the show is a must-see.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.
Written by Yvonne Caruthers and Theresa Gambacorta. Directed by and featuring Caruthers. 60 minutes. Through July 28 at Capital Fringe Festival. Visit www.capfringe.org.