Opus: Eloquent and Engrossing
Also see Bob's review of The Old Settler
The setting is a square wooden platform and wood acoustic panels, one overhead and one on each side curving to the rear. At the rear is a wall-sized screen whose color and brightness are varied by the lighting. It is a perfect setting for the elegant and refined, convincingly insightful, and engrossing Opus, Michael Hollinger's examination into the heart and soul of a string quartet.
Geoffrey Owens, Anjanette Hall, Saxon Palmer and Kevin Kelly
After holding auditions, the famed Lazara Quartet hires Grace as their new violist. As per the rules of the group, the high-strung, erratic Dorian had been stripped of that position when the other three voted him out. Thereafter, in a dozen or so scenes divided by chamber music interludes precisely mimed by the cast to recorded quartets played back on a most impressive sound system, Opus carries us back to the events leading to Dorian's dismissal, and forward through rehearsals for an imminent White House performance and a crisis which threatens the continued existence of the quartet.
Saxon Palmer portrays first violinist Elliot, the de facto leader of the group. Craig Baldwin plays Dorian, who has gone missing since his dismissal and is feared dead by the others. Elliot and Dorian had been partners since their student days, and the events leading to Dorian's dismissal include the dissolution of their union. As high-strung and psychologically fragile as one than the other proves to be, both Palmer and Baldwin neatly avoid any melodramatics, unerringly maintaining the tone and textile of the play and production.
Geoffrey Owens as the practical and grounded cellist Carl does not make waves nor readily tolerate others who do. He is a loving family man who has been battling cancer. In an appealing, quietly modulated performance, Owens seamlessly unveils Carl, who at first glance appears to be a pale cipher but we come to know as the supplier of the steel which stabilizes the quartet.
Kevin Kelly plays Alan whose laidback attitude provides a valuable contrast to the others' intensity. Anjanette Hall's graceful Grace neatly sidesteps the danger of being unsympathetic as she secretly weighs the artistic benefits of the quartet against the economic benefits and security of playing with a venerated symphony orchestra.
Director Matthew Arbour has done a excellent work in achieving a consistent, lovely and appropriate tone for every aspect of the production. As noted, the scenic design of Lee Savage provides a perfect setting for the production.
None of the above applies to the final scene of Opus. Apparently having decided that his play needed a big climax complete with fireworks, author Michael Hollinger drives his vehicle over the cliff taking everyone involved along with him. This unnecessarily and unbelievably disrupts the fabric of the play.
Until then, Opus provides a satisfyingly classy evening in the theatre by examining and personifying the artistic impulse and temperament.
Opus continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday - Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Wednesday 1 pm; Saturday and Sunday 3 pm) through November 14, 2010, at the Two River Theatre Company (Rechnitz Theatre), 21 Bridge Street, Red Bank, NJ 07701. Box Office: 732-345-1400; online: www.trtc.org.
Opus by Michael Hollinger; directed by Matthew Arbour