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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at 59E59 Theaters

By Matt Windman

  Michael Hollinger

In the first scene of Opus, the four members of the Lazara Quartet, a classical string quartet, are asked to define their profession. Elliot, first violinist quotes Goethe, calling it "a discourse among four reasonable people." Carl, cellist, makes a joke: "one good violinist, one bad violinist, one former violinist, and someone who doesn't even like the violin." Dorian, violist, gets metaphysical, calling it "some living, pulsing organism." Alan, second violinist, suggest the metaphor of "a marriage, only with more fidelity."

Call it what you will, but I have only positive words to describe Opus, a new drama by Michael Hollinger produced Off- Broadway by Primary Stages. The story revolves around the backstage politics, egos and creative turmoil among this world famous group, which is currently in the process of welcoming its first female member, who is not only a generation younger than them but a total musical prodigy, and preparing themselves for a live television broadcast from the White House.

Though Opus qualifies as a play with music, with bits and pieces of Beethoven, Bach and Bartok playing intermittently, none of the actors are themselves playing their instruments. It just so happens, however, that Hollinger is himself a former violinist. And even if the actors aren't playing music, Hollinger's dialogue is delivered in steadily rhythmic patterns, much like the iambic pentameter of a Shakespeare play.

The play's exterior movement is also outstanding, which flips back and forth from the present day to face-to-face interviews of the musicians, to scenes documenting the breakup of Elliot and Dorian. The growing emotions of its members finally collide at play's end, following their presidential performance, symbolized by the violent smashing of a priceless antique violin. ( At my performance, a cell phone rang twice during the last scene. One could sense dozens of patrons and critics raging at the phone's owner as she fiddled through her pocketbook looking for it.)

As staged with graceful precision by Terrence J. Nolen, the outstanding ensemble cast ( Douglas Rees, Richard Topol , David Beach, Michael J. Laurence and Mahira Kakkar) works seamlessly along with the pre-recorded soundtrack and Justin Townsend's dark lighting scheme. Frankly, I can think of no other drama this summer as rich and rewarding as Opus, a haunting personal look at a group's ongoing effort to reach a state of musical as well as personal harmony, and the pain that follows as it all falls apart.


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