Put four world-class string musicians into a tiny rehearsal space, and you could get: A) a quartet that produces breathtakingly beautiful music; B) a quartet capable of producing breathtakingly beautiful music—if each individual puts aside his or her personal agenda and ego; C) four individually talented musicians that are only a quartet because they’re forced to play the same song at the same time. Such is the challenge facing the characters in Park Square Theatre’s latest production, Opus.
Written by former violist-turned-playwright Michael Hollinger, Opus follows the Lazara Quartet. Just days before their biggest performance to date (a televised performance at the White House), the internationally renowned foursome fires their violist due to (among other things) his hot temper and unpredictable manner. In his place they hire Grace (Emily Gunyou Halaas), a gifted but inexperienced recent graduate who comes highly recommended. To say she shakes things up for the quartet would be an understatement, and the three original members must come face-to-face with the truth of their past, present, and, most importantly, future.
While the fact that the actors don’t actually play their assigned instruments could be a distraction, such is not the cast with Opus. As the play builds—finally climaxing at the end of the 90-minute, intermission-free run—the audience becomes enthralled in the dynamics and history of the group. The setting changes frequently in both time and place, moving from present day (circa 2006) rehearsals for the White House which include Grace, to flashbacks of the original quartet recording in London, to an uncomfortable clash between past and the present quartet violists in Pittsburgh. The transitions are smooth and seamless, adding to rather than distracting from the overall plot. Each interaction unveils deeper layers of individuals—Carl’s (Stephen D’Ambrose) battle with cancer, Elliot (Paul de Cordova) and Dorian’s (Peter Christian Hansen) love affair, Alan’s (David Mann) active libido—as well as the inner-workings of the quartet as a whole.
The play moves at a steady pace thanks to veteran Park Square director Mary M. Finnerty (also the founder and director of Park Square’s education program), neither dragging during musical interludes nor becoming overwhelmingly emotional—until the appropriate time. Over all, Opus is refreshing—a unique story told in a bold, direct manner; a masterpiece based on a masterpiece.
Through May 29
Park Square Theatre, 20 W. Seventh Pl., St. Paul