Monday Smiles – 11/19/2012
Sunday afternoon, Muri and I visited the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix to see the Micheal Hollinger play, Opus. In Opus, Lazara, a string quartet, is about to reach a professional zenith with a performance at the White House when it has to replace one of its members, the brilliant but stable-only-when-medicated Dorian (Ian Christiansen). Dorian is the most talented and visionary of Lazarra’s artists but is relegated to second fiddle (actually, Viola) by his lover, Elliot (Spencer Dooley). Elliot is snide and imperious, hyper-critical of everyone’s playing but his own, which leads to the fireworks with Dorian that result in his firing. So, as Opus begins, the remaining members are interviewing a young protege, Grace (Kate Haas), as Dorian’s replacement. Grace is brilliant but intimidated by the opportunity to play her first professional engagement with an established quartet at the White House. Alan (Pasha Yamothari), Lazarra’s fun-loving peacemaker, welcomes Grace to the group, providing her with an inside look at the group’s dysfunction. And Carl (David Dickinson), a family man five-years from a bout with cancer, tries to remain above the chaos.
The play follows Lazara the week before the White House performance as Grace becomes embroiled in Lazara’s often emotionally charged creative process at rehearsals, incorporating flashbacks to scenes with Dorian and occasional soliloquies on life and music by each of the actors. During the course of the week we get to see a heartbreaking flashback to the act that resulted in Dorian’s firing, his kidnapping of Elliot’s Lazara violin as a means of returning his lover to his arms. We learn that Dorian has disappeared, leaving Lazara with a mostly unspoken fear that he’s killed himself and Elliot with a guilt that surfaces as rage at hints of romance between Alan and Grace. And we discover that Carl’s cancer has metastasized throughout his body.
While that probably sounds melodramatic, Hollinger manages to keep the play realistic, focusing on the musician’s relationship with the music and each other. The most interesting scenes are about the music and the artist’s own interpretation of the piece they’ve chosen for the White House performance, Beethoven Quartet, Opus 131. Opus concludes after Lazara’s triumphant White House performance, when a behind the scenes alliance between Grace and Dorian, who have met at an audition for the Pittsburgh Symphony, reconstitutes Lazarra again. During rehearsal scenes, the play is adorned with a soundtrack of Bach, Dvorak and Beethoven (the actor’s mimic playing quite nicely). The set was simple but effective and the acting was excellent.
So, it’s Monday. We are in the middle of the desert for a week but at least it’s not a cultural desert. Great theater about classical music and the creative process. Or, as Variety said about Opus: Sex, drugs … and string quartets. What’s not to like? I’m smiling.