Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sex, drugs, and chamber music at the Rep

A marvelous cast and a wonderful script make Opus, a play by Michael Hollinger directed by Braden Abraham at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, a treat not to be missed.

Opus is the tale of the award-winning Lazara String Quartet and the personal and professional relationships between the players. They're preparing for a big gig at the White House, but also auditioning for a new viola player. The "sex, drugs, and chamber music" line from the play's promotional materials is a bit of hyperbole; the sex is inferred and the drugs are mostly pharmaceutical. But another line from the Rep's flyers touting the "all-star local cast" is spot on.

First violin Elliot, a control freak and total prick played deliciously by Allen Fitzpatrick, has engineered the sacking  from the quartet of Dorian (Todd Jefferson Moore), his former lover. The players agree that Dorian is the most talented musician of the bunch, but he's also a little "buggy" and the flightiness finally gets to be too much to bear. As the show opens Grace (Chelsey Rives), a talented young woman musician, auditions and wins Dorian's seat in the group. Bass player Carl (Charles Leggett) provides the grounding for the quartet musically and personally. Second violin Alan (Shawn Belyea) has great feeling, showing concern for the well-being of the others in the group, and develops an eye for Grace. All five cast members give delightful performances.

Hollinger, a violinist himself before becoming a playwright, weaves his dialog like music, bringing the various voices together beautifully. While taking on some challenging subject matter--making art, the bickering, ambition, and egos involved, and how personal relationships can affect the final product--Hollinger does so with good humor. The show is never sappy and the ending isn't at all pat.

The music is handled well. While in general we don't care so much for the use of recorded music in live theater, it would have been impossible to find five superb string players who are also marvelous actors. So while the music is actually recordings of the Vertigo String Quartet out of Philadelphia, the choreography of the actors gives an authentic and plausible look to their playing, even though they aren't.

A spoiler here:

At the end Dorian comes back with a proposal. He, the better musician, should replace Elliot, his former lover, in the group. The quartet agrees. In a dispute over proper ownership of a prized Lazara violin, Carl smashes the instrument on a chair. Shrapnel from the shattered masterpiece flew into the audience, and Weisenheimer snagged a piece of theater prop souvenir. It's pictured in my photo above, on top of a show program!

UPDATE: With the run of the show ending tomorrow, John Levesque reports on that a total of 55 violins gave up their lives in Opus. They weren't just stage props, they were real violins, beginner models, that the Rep bought for about $30 each!

Opus runs through Dec. 6 in the Rep's Leo K theatre. Don't miss it.

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