A piano player shows us how to triumph over fear
Written and directed by Tom Stagg, I N T E R V A L S is based on a true story about a woman named Annie Miller, a classically trained pianist who has never performed in public due to crippling stage fright. In the first scene, we see a teenage Annie nervously waiting her turn to play in a piano recital. She emerges from the velvet curtains clutching a book of Chopin Etudes, sits down on the piano bench. She fumbles with her pearls and freezes in fear, unable to play. Her terror is palpable as she nervously flutters her eyes, paralyzed before the audience.
Present day Annie is an elderly woman stricken with dementia and living in a nursing home. She is reunited with her piano as her daughter stands by and says, “She doesn’t even know we’re here. Just don’t expect too much.” As her chair is wheeled to the piano, she blinks nervously, and weakly fumbles with her pearls. That old nervous tick.
Enrique Rosano, a piano tuner who knew Annie as a young woman, sets to work to tune the grand instrument. She recognizes him and a we see a light switch on behind Annie’s deep blue eyes. “Butterflies…” she quietly says as he tinkers at the keys “butterflies…” she says again as if she is in a dream. We are then launched through a series of flashbacks where Annie’s past unfolds as she remembers different times in her life and her sacred relationship with her piano.
Annie, as a little girl at a piano recital, dashes up to the stage and stares at the man playing piano in pure awe. “Butterflies,” she whispers as her tiny fingers tap the stage as if she were playing. In a scene beautifully acted by Amber Rose Mason (Annie) and David Mills-Low (Enrique), Annie as a young woman confides in Enrique about her stage fright as he tunes her piano. She demurely serves him a cup of tea as her daughter, then a child, spins circles and plays with her toys.
Annie then sits down and begins to play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu with an intensity and passion that belies her phobia of playing for the public. In Stagg’s beautiful tribute to this woman, we may wonder how a person who is deeply talented and imbued with a very special gift, a musical virtuoso, is only able to play for her daughter and the man who came to tune her piano many years ago. That she could be so gifted and yet so full of self doubt is difficult to understand, but stage fright is a very real phenomenon, isn’t it?
Perhaps being vulnerable is one of the keys to artistic genius. Could it be the ingredient that separates the good from the great? If so, then maybe the most fragile and the most unassuming among us are the ones who hide extraordinary talent. In the end, we are uplifted as we see Annie in her twilight years sitting at her piano once more, playing for a room full of nursing home residents. I N T E R V A L S is about the triumph over fear. The fear of sharing our beauty with the world. Perhaps it took an interval of time for Annie to find the courage to share her gift with those who are so eager to listen — those who perhaps need to hear her music the most.