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St. Louis by Richard Green

Opus
West End Players Guild

Also see Richard's review of Gypsy

Opus
John Wolbers, Jonathan Hey, Caitlin Mickey, Stephen Peirick and Dennis L. Folwarczny II (seated)
It's a good thing there's more to this show than just beautiful music, because I'm not really much of an expert on beautiful music. My taste runs to the sentimental and overblown—much like my old acting career, such as it was.

But Michael Hollinger's 2006 play is really equal parts beautiful music and the delicate outlines of a ghost story. And this is fortunate for me, because ghost stories are so much easier to understand. In Opus, members of a string quartet seek to conjure the spirit and intent of composers; and also struggle with the phantom pain of losing a former member. Then there's the equally persistent sense of haunting each one of them endures, because of the ghosts of their own perceived artistic shortcomings in past musical recordings. All of this puts the music they work on now (and the musicians themselves) into a strange, yearning context: in search of a paradise lost.

Jerry McAdams directs, getting a highly authentic, astringent realism from his cast of five (the quartet and a former member). John Wolbers is excellent as the neurotic violinist who seems to find every bowl of porridge either far too hot or far too cold. And Stephen Peirick, as his ex-lover Dorian, is very nearly a femme fatale in his own right: teasing and tormenting Wolbers' character with the most clever and delicious persistence.

Things crank up substantially when the current members are all invited to play at the White House, including a new violist, Grace (Caitlin Mickey). She adds a big dash of romance to the group, even as Dorian swings maliciously back into view to wreak a little stylish havoc: like Maleficent, the evil queen from Sleeping Beauty.

Dennis L. Folwarczny II's voice, as the cellist, is almost too imposingly beautiful for intimate live theater, but it does certainly add to the overall musicality of the show, whenever he speaks. And, as Carl, his own haunted existence will prey on them all. Jonathan Hey rounds out the group as the gruff and laconic Alan, the quintessential "non-believer." His private scene with Grace has a warm and weird sexual tension, as they try to figure out their relationship together.

There's a great plot twist as the end draws near, which seems doubly real, thanks to the down-to-earth style of acting. The ghost-story motif is fulfilled, too, when a priceless heirloom that's become a bit of a 'monkey's paw' must finally be put to the sword, to cleanse and restore order to the group.

Very good sound and pantomime musicianship, too, though my eyes did tend to wander dreamily up to the ceiling whenever the music started. Continues through April 14, 2013, at the Union Ave. Christian Church, a block north of Delmar Blvd. For more information visit them at www.westendplayers.org/

Cast:
Dorian: Stephen Peirick
Carl: Dennis L. Folwarczny II
Alan: Jonathan Hey
Elliot: John Wolbers
Grace: Caitlin Mickey

Crew
Director: Jerry McAdams
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Elizabeth Henning
Set Design & Technical Director: Ken Clark
Master Carpenter: Ethan Dudenhoeffer
Lighting Design: Tony Anselmo
Sound Design: Jerry McAdams
Costumes: Renee Sevier-Monsey
Props: Rebecca Davidson
Sound Technician: Mary Beth Winslow
Lighting Technician: Renee Sevier-Monsey


Photo: John Lamb


-- Richard T. Green

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