Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Opus"

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note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Larry Stark


by Michael Hollinger
Directed by Jim Petosa

Scenic Design by Christina Todesco
Costume Design by Eric Propp
Lighting Design by Scott Pinkney
Sound Design by Benjamin Emerson
Executive Producing Partners Marcy Crary & Tim Hall
Production Stage Manager Amy Weissenstein

Alan..........Shelley Bolman
Dorian........Benjamin Evett
Elliot..........Michael Kaye
Grace...........Becky Webber
Carl............Bates Wilder

"A string quartet should sound like four instruments played with the same bow."

In Michael Hollinger's play "Opus" members of The Lazara Quartet hoot and giggle at this pretentious pontification from one of their revered teachers --- then they bitch and fight and argue while they try to bring exactly that quote into reality. At the beginning of the play, which flits back and forth through time effortlessly, the group is trying to replace their violist, since dissonant discords forced them to fire one who played with them for ten years. They are all very different, passionately tempermental artists forced by their mutual love of the music to work, rehearse, practice and live together off-stage as well as in performances. The play is about why they came to the split and how, after shattering arguments, they can come together to continue the work in something like harmony.

The only one with a real choice here is Grace (Becky Webber) --- the immediately accepted replacement --- who could instead become first-violin of the Pittsburg Symphony. Playing "under a conductor" is different from the "freedom" involved in making string quartets new again. And there's the abrasive, exhilarating arguments with colleagues over tempi, over Beethoven's intentions or errors, over when and where to practice together, what to play, whether to attempt an encore, and whether to endure conflicts or to seek drastic change to end them.

Two of the players (Benjamin Evett's Dorian; Michael Kaye's Elliot) are carefully closeted lovers always fighting in rehearsal. Shelley Bolman's Alan is pleasantly easy-going, Bates Wilder an older sage keeping his personal problems private. Anyone at any time can demand a vote on almost anything that settles the matter ... if it's not 2-to-2.

Scenes often begin or end with music --- with the quartet in unison miming the bowing to Benjamin Emerson's exquisite Sound Design. The only clue that these four are not playing (if it is noticed at all) is the fingers of their left hands deliberately NOT moving on the strings.

Michael Hollinger's script is a masterpiece of quick exchanges in which situations grow and erupt organically, and out of which inevitable though painful facts arise. These are committed, witty, insistent artists who banter and blast one another out of ten years of professional experience and personal compromises for the mutual good. The cast here are five gifted instruments perfectly played by the one invisible bow of Director Jim Petosa.

( a k a larry stark )

opus 1809, "a work, composition, esp. a musical one," from L. opus "a work, labor, exertion" (cf. It. opera, Fr. oeuvre, Sp. obra), from PIE base *op- (Gmc. *ob-) "to work, produce in abundance," originally of agriculture later extended to religious acts (cf. Skt. apas- "work, religious act;" Avestan hvapah- "good deed;" O.H.G. uoben "to start work, to practice, to honor;" Ger. üben "to exercise, practice;" Du. oefenen, O.N. æfa, Dan. øve "to exercise, practice;" O.E. æfnan "to perform, work, do," afol "power"). The plural, seldom used, is opera.

"Opus" (28 March - 17 April)
Arsenal Center for The Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, WATERTOWN MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide