Seattle Repertory Theater
October 30 - December 6, 2009
Michael Hollinger’s Opus begins with the four original members of the Lazara String Quartet, in separate pools of light, each holding their instrument. They speak to us as though each is alone, but their words overlap, come one after another with perfect tempo, and occasionally are spoken in unison—their words played together in concert like their music will be just a moment later.
When the lights return to full stage, the profoundly talented but “unpredictable” violist Dorian (Todd Jefferson Moore) is gone, replaced by Grace (Chelsea Rives), who is auditioning for the empty spot. Opus is the story of that quartet, their ambitions and characters, like their music, distinct but entwined.
Carl, the cellist (Charles Leggett) is the low note, attempting to anchor the group, but with difficulties of his own; Leggett is a master at both subtle gravitas and drought-dry humor, both of which he brings to bear on Carl. Alan, the second violinist (Shawn Belyea) is the most normal of the four, punctuating Grace’s nerves with jokes and a little flirting. Elliot, the first violinist (Alan Fitzpatrick) is high-strung, ambitious and stubborn—and not-so-secretly Dorian’s lover. It is this relationship that is the beginning of the group’s breakdown, and newcomer Grace becomes the catalyst for both revisiting their past and their attempts to move forward.
Director Braden Abraham uses the Rep’s Leo K. stage and his actors’ talents to great effect. Etta Lilienthal’s simple but versatile set has the pale wood and clean lines of a concert hall, and Abraham’s staging gets the most out of it. L. B. Morse’s light design is a symphony in itself, using deep pools of light, gentle washes, or, perhaps most effectively, a color-tinted scrim against which the actors, swaying to their own music, are silhouetted at the end of scenes. In a play that revolves so closely around music, the sound designer is vastly important, and Matt Starritt rises to the challenge. All the music from the Lazara Quartet is recorded, but it sounds different in each scene, if they are in a house rehearsing or in a vast concert hall. Most impressively, during a rehearsal scene in which the quartet restarts the same five measures three times, those three recordings are subtly but clearly different (an obvious act for a sound designer, perhaps, but one much appreciated by this reviewer and her companion).
Nods must also be given to Michael Jinsoo Lim and Melia Watras, music consultants; their work showed in the obvious reverence each character had for their instrument, the movements of each actor while they “played” those instruments, and the clear understanding the actors had when they spoke of music.
Opus is a one act, but it packs a wallop in those 90 minutes; the scenes and dialogue move at a fast clip, and only slow down for the music itself—like the characters themselves, which occasionally seem to be moving too fast or in the wrong direction, and yet are able to, with their music, create something complex, intimate and beautiful in its mortality.
(Image coming soon!)
(Image coming soon!)
Review by Kenna Kettrick