by Joel Elkins~
In the overture to Opus, now making an extended run at the Fountain Theatre, one of the characters compares making beautiful music together to lovemaking (and bad music to drinking Drano). If so, then the Lazara Quartet at the heart of the play is an absolute orgy, four men whose legatos, crescendos and pizzicatos regularly embrace, cavort and procreate, striving for ever-higher levels of musical rapture. Unfortunately, the passion of the music proves no match for the clashing of the egos.
As the play opens, the remaining three members of the quartet are in the midst of auditioning for a replacement for Dorian, the brilliant but mercurial violist whose mood swings have finally gotten too much for the group. Although cognizant that his vision and passion would be missed, they are content to concede some genius for a little less drama. In steps Grace, an enormously talented recent music graduate in the midst of weighing her career options. The three woo her shamelessly, hoping that her musical gifts could somehow fill the void left by the departure of Dorian, while also helping to stabilize the group dynamic. Adding to the pressure is an impending date to play the White House, as well as an unfinished Beethoven suite the group had started recording but never completed.
As Grace regulates to the group and they to her, flashbacks shed light on how things have come to be as they are. Snippets of interviews serve as intermezzos, as the musicians provide staccato answers to unheard questions from an unseen interviewer.
It’s always a delight to witness artists and craftsmen interact with others in their field, seemingly speaking in a different language, and the script by Michael Hollinger – who got his bachelor’s degree in music and his masters in theatre – has much of that same insight and passion which endeared Amadeus to millions of classical music aficionados and neophytes alike. All are able to appreciate the beauty of the music by hearing it through the ears of those who understand it, embrace it and cherish it so much more than most of us ever could.
The acting is excellent all-around. Daniel Blinkoff is superb as Dorian, treading the amorphous line between genius and insanity. Jia Doughman is wonderful as Grace, quite, demur and with no idea what she is getting into. Christian Lebano truly embodies the problematic Elliot, who, in some ways, serves as the antithesis to Dorian but soon is shown to have more in common with his ex-lover than he would care to admit. Gregory G. Giles and Cooper Thornton fill out the quintet nicely with equally solid portrayals.
During the musical numbers of the play, I could never be sure whether the actors were actually playing their instruments or “bow-synching” to pre-recorded music, nor could I decide which would be more impressive. The fact that it wasn’t clear speaks to the incredible preparation of the actors and the fastidious direction of Simon Levy and his duet of musical advisors, Larry Sonderling and Roy Tanabe.
Frederica Nascimento’s set design is artistic and visually appealing and Ken Booth’s lighting is inventive and well-conceived.
Opus is an all-around professional production, with artistry, craft and attention to detail that is not lost on the audience and has become the hallmark of Fountain Theatre productions. I can sum up my reaction in one word: “Bravissimo.”
Opus is performed Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through August 29, 2010
The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Ave., 1 block east of Normandie Ave. in Hollywood, 90027.
Ticket prices: Thurs/Fri $25 (Students: $18/Seniors: $23), Sat/Sun $28
Reservations online at www.fountaintheatre.com or by phone at 323-663-1525.