Here, in sleek and supple fashion, is a story (mostly) about that second group: musicians who take turns giving up everything they've ever held dear. And, in-between times, it's moderately a) astringent, b) bracing, c) cruel and d) funny, as each player tries to avoid stepping into the private madness of the others.
It should come as no surprise that the actual madman of the story (Matthew Boston as Dorian) provides the real electricity here, having almost no polite boundaries at all. He and James Joseph O'Neil (as his self-important ex-lover Elliot) are like a pair of spitting cobras, always on the verge of intertwining, or just killing each other outright.
It's just a little sad that Mr. Boston isn't written-in a little sooner, to keep author Michael Hollinger's drama as sky-high as when he's finally brought out. As a highly medicated musician, his Dorian probably comes from that other artistic camp, where you're just born without being access to the common, humane niceties, and doomed to wander the world in state of perpetual outrage.
Still, there's just enough temperament thrown around in his absence to keep things moving forward. And Mr. O'Neil (as the diva of a string quartet) provides his own quietly diffident, controlling madness, till resentment turns to revolution.
Brendon Fox directs and, judging by the audience reaction on press night, this production seemed to fulfill the basic requirements of shock and loss demanded by the script. Rachael Jenison is delightful as the new girl in the group, after Dorian's departure, and Greg Jackson and Chris Hietikko provide all the necessary comedy and drama when Mr. Boston and Mr. O'Neil aren't riveting our attention together, as a highly explosive compound.
I would have liked to see a little more angst in Mr. O'Neil's performance, well before the final scene, but maybe that's something the playwright makes clear enough on his own. It's an intimate show, and frankly, better suited to the studio theater downstairs, where the power of each of the relationships and the awkwardness of artists trying to work together could really come under a microscope. This was emphatically proved in a production of Opus last year, at the much smaller but much older West End Players Guild here in St. Louis.
But, in life and art, you take what you get. And somehow you manage to get by when it's taken away. The gigantic, PowerPoint animations of musical instruments flowing by during scene changes provides a sort of gushy, Dove chocolate lusciousness to the backdrop behind the big stagejust as all the actual human action is kept at a good, sterile, arms length in that great big room.
Through February 2, 2014, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, on the Browning Mainstage at the Loretto-Hilton theatre, 130 Edgar Rd., on the campus of Webster University. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.