Theater Review: ‘Opus’ at the Fountain Theatre
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In the world according to “Opus,” a string quartet requires artistic polyamory: You have to all get on to get it on musically.
Michael Hollinger’s witty, entertaining dramedy, now at the Fountain Theatre, is a romance played out with horsehair bows and music stands. No wonder violist Dorian (Daniel Blinkoff) compares a well-functioning quartet to lovemaking, a notion echoed by Frederica Nascimento’s constructivist set that curves along the upstage wall, a rich collage of browns, red, and black evoking the sensuality of exquisitely crafted instruments.
The play begins with the end of a successful audition. Yet prodigy Grace (Jia Doughman) signs on for a lot more than Beethoven and Bartok when she agrees to be the new violist for the Lazara String Quartet in lieu of a steady gig with the Pittsburgh Symphony (“The job satisfaction rates for orchestra players are lower than dentists,” one quartet member dryly observes.).
Turns out Grace’s seat was previously occupied by Dorian, the ex-lover of domineering lead violinist Elliot (Christian Lebano) and a neurasthenic visionary who has been missing for weeks. As the reconfigured quartet struggles to achieve harmony in time for a big gig at the White House, “Opus” literally becomes a game of musical chairs. Who will survive when the music ends?
The actors gracefully mime their musical performances (advised by violinist Larry Sonderling, a 30-year veteran of the L.A. Philharmonic) to gorgeously recorded classical excerpts delivered by sound designer Peter Bayne. A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costumes underscore the characters’ elegance and fastidiousness; Grace’s dresses are particularly striking. Simon Levy’s direction moves con brio, invisible yet exact, the rhythm of the line readings creating its own musicality. Each actor offers a specific tone: Cooper Thornton’s Alan is a droll Lothario, while clear-eyed but reticent cellist Carl (Gregory G. Giles) holds secrets of his own. Lebano’s vain Elliot makes the hard decisions but can’t hear the exquisite musical shadings that obsess Blinkoff’s tremulous, childish Dorian.
Levy and his accomplished cast almost manage to sell Hollinger’s unnecessary excursions into overwrought soap, particularly in the final scene. It’s the smaller moments that compel, creating an intimacy that make “Opus” a stylish midsummer date night.
“Opus” Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 25. $18-$30. Contact: 323-663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com Running time: 95 minutes.