The world renowned Lazara string quartet is auditioning viola players. Dorian, the original violist has been fired, had a breakdown, and has disappeared (not necessarily in that order) and with a televised performance at the White House scheduled, the show, as they say, must go on.
OPUS, playing at Curtain Call Theatre through November 17th reveals the progress of that brief rehearsal period, while providing us with a glimpse into the quartet’s past. We learn that the original members of the group have been together since their studies and have achieved great renown despite their disparate personalities and the combative way they deal with one another. Enter Grace (Elizabeth Pietrangelo) an ingénue who was originally inspired to play after witnessing a performance by this very same quartet. Her obvious talent makes an impression and she’s offered the job – but she’s clearly not sure what she’s getting herself into. Wise girl.
As rehearsals begin we come to know Carl (Chris Foster) solid and realistic. He’s got a young family, and a cancer diagnosis he may have managed to beat. Alan (Isaac Newberry) is newly divorced, and may have an eye for Grace. Elliot (Kris Anderson) is a bossy bundle of petty complaints, and perfectionisms. In flashback, we meet Dorian (Paul Dedrick). He’s clearly unstable but Dedrick plays him to great effect with that romantic quality we like to attribute to tortured artists.
When I made arrangements to see the show, I was pointedly told, “they don’t actually play the instruments” – which initially seemed strange to me. I wouldn’t have expected Curtain Call to have cast virtuoso string players. Seeing the performance helped me understand. There is quite a bit of playing in the production, and Director, Barbara Richards, wisely has her actors replicate the intensity of a classical performance without attempting to “fool” the audience into thinking they are actually playing. It works.
The performances are excellent. The tension of the rehearsal room is apparent, as is the familiar contempt and affection that exists between longstanding artistic collaborators. Pietrangelo does an excellent job of balancing her desire to please, with her trepidation about the dynamics of the group. We can see her leaving herself an out. The script leads us to believe that the four gentlemen are contemporaries – although the actors playing them span a broad age range – a function of a limited casting pool, I imagine. This is of little consequence except when some attraction builds between Alan and Grace. The tension of that allure would have been heightened if their age gap was broader.
Playwright Michael Hollinger has a real ear for dialogue. The interaction between Grace, Carl, Elliot and Alan as they work to become a single entity is fascinating to watch and listen to, and intimately familiar. Mild annoyances, passionate outbursts, and warm encouragements pass between these four with grace and delicacy. All of this happens on Will Lowry’s appropriately spare set which easily morphs from various rehearsal locations, to the green room at the White House.
In fact, the complex, and very human relationships between these characters were SO believable that when the some major plot surprises are revealed in the penultimate scene, I wasn’t prepared to accept them. I don’t want to give away too much, but suffice to say, I don’t believe the playwright provides sufficient ammunition for the reorganization of the group we are offered. Maybe I’ve been around artists too long but I needed to see more tension and resentment amongst the characters if I was to believe they would be willing to take the steps that are suggested. That aside, I left the performance of OPUS with the feeling I’d seen something intimate, beautiful, and fleeting.
OPUS can be seen at Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Rd, Latham. Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays 8:00pm, Saturdays 8:00pm and Sundays 3:00pm, through November 17th