note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Like a finely-tuned, precisely timed orchestra, Michael Hollinger’s one-act, 100-minute play “Opus” takes us behind the scenes and into the lives of a fictitious, internationally renowned string quartet, sharing individuals’ personalities, their hopes, dreams, and demons. Hollinger knows what he’s talking about, given he is a violinist-turned-playwright who excels in both mediums.
The play is making its New England premiere now through April 17 at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, and has garnered audiences’ admiration and appreciation.
While we, the audience, generally bask in the glory and grandeur of classical music groups’ performances, we don’t know anything about them biographically, save what the program or playbill touts as their musical backgrounds and accomplishments. And because their appearances demand total harmony among them --- or as they announce, they must play together, creating a unified, single sound --- we don’t think about their personal lives. Let’s face it: classical and chamber music quartets don’t get media ink and public adoration the way high profile, popular music groups --- excluding Boston Pops Orchestra’s conductor Keith Lockhart and his former wife and violinist, Lucia Lin. Besides performing in the Pops, the couple performed together in a chamber group during their much-publicized tempestuous relationship.
In “Opus,” a world-renowned string quartet prepares for its once-in-a-lifetime performance at the White House, to be televised before a few million viewers, thus paving their path to fame, when Dorian, their gifted, volatile violinist-viola player, disappears, forcing them to hire a last-minute replacement.
Although nobody in this gifted cast is an accomplished musician, per se, the group delivers an exquisitely-timed performance, with dramatic staccatos, vibratos, crescendos, fortissimos and pianissimos. The actors’ simulated musical performances are bolstered with recorded musical pieces, including segments of Beethoven’s difficult “Opus 131” in C# minor, written between 1825 and 1826.
As most chamber groups do, the Lazara rehearse in each other’s homes, and that’s where their personality differences emerge, with tempers rising and artistic jealousies and ideologies clashing, threatening to tear the group apart in what may be their finest hour. Lead violinist Elliot (Michael Kaye) dislikes being challenged; cello player Carl (Bates Wilder) is a mediating figure, with a sad secret threatening his existence; Alan (Shelley Bolman) is a roguish violinist who likes the ladies; Grace, (Becky Webber), the group’s newcomer and Dorian’s replacement, is unsure about whether she should take a position with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra or remain with the stringed quartet; and Dorian (Benjamin Evett) is the volatile, highly gifted but emotionally haunted viola player who wants to play first violin instead. Dorian appears in flashbacks and later, after the group has performed in the White House.
The cast, under Jim Petosa’s expert directing, is superb, creating pitch-perfect harmony on stage. Cristina Todesco’s minimalist set, Scott Pinkney’s lighting and Ben Emerson’s sound design add dramatic touches to this intimate play.
BOX INFO: One-act, 100-minute play written by Michael Hollinger, directed by Jim Petosa, running now through April 17 at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Charles Mosesian Theater, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday matinee, 3:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. with talkback, and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35-$54; senior discount, $7 off; student rush, $13. For tickets, call 617-923-8487, or visit www.newrep.org.