Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The History of Kisses
Playwright Michael Hollinger trained as a classical musician before shifting his artistic focus to the stage, but his 2006 play Opusnow at Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washingtonshows that the members of a string quartet may face interpersonal stresses similar to those in any other workplace. One unique element, though, is the ephemeral nature of what musicians produce: a recorded performance may last, but each individual note evaporates as soon as it is played.
Director Jim Petosa previously staged Opus at New Repertory Theatre in Boston, and four of the five cast members in that production are repeating their roles at Olney. The fifth is Olney standby Paul Morella, who steps in as part of an excellent and smoothly operating ensemble.
Hollinger's play, coincidentally, also concerns the change in dynamics (both emotional and musical) that occurs when one person leaves an insular group and another fills the space. High-strung Elliott (Michael Kaye), first violin, and overwrought Dorian (Benjamin Evett), viola, founded the Lazara String Quartet with boyish Alan (Shelley Bolman), second violin, and serious Carl (Morella), cello. But when Dorian becomes more and more erratic, the three other musicians vote him out and hire Grace (Becky Webber), just out of the conservatory and uncertain about her future. Meanwhile, the quartet has the tension-inducing honor of being invited to do a televised performance at the White House.
The playwright created the drama to echo the form of a work of chamber music, where each performer has a chance to shine and yet work together in various combinations. Hollinger uses a non-consecutive series of scenes to show the different sides of the various musicians, from the mundane (Elliott's allergy to cats becomes a running joke) to the intense (Carl is in remission from cancer), and the thrill and danger when co-workers would like to make their partnership a more intimate one.
Kaye ably presents both Elliott's bullying and his surprising vulnerability, playing beautifully against Evett's emotional upheaval as Morella tries to calm the waters, and Bolman forges an easy camaraderie with Webber.
Olney Theatre Center