“Opus” is, quite simply, the best play I’ve seen about the art of making music since “Amadeus.”
And the Interplayers production fulfills every bit of the potential in Michael Hollinger’s excellent script, down to the 16th note. This five-member ensemble is smart, talented and perfectly cast.
This is a play about a string quartet, not a quintet, which gives you a hint right there about the central conflict in this play. One member, the brilliant but unstable Dorian, has been fired. In his place comes the brilliant yet inexperienced Grace. Yet we soon learn that Dorian is not entirely out of the picture.
And, as if Grace weren’t already feeling the pressure of being the new kid, an invitation has just arrived from the White House to play for the president and a TV audience of 15 million. Gulp.
Hollinger loads even more conflicts into this plot – illness, romantic entanglements – but they are not strictly necessary because the true strength of this play comes in the rehearsal scenes, where the only conflict that matters is the one between the musicians and Beethoven.
Can these musicians bring the genius of the composer to life, using only the marks on a score? And is it possible for them, for even brief moments, to transcend that genius?
The answer is yes on both counts. Director Jadd Davis has done an exceptional job of showing the musical and interpersonal tensions that arise when making such a complex piece of art. The actors “play” to a recorded soundtrack – which comes off as quite realistic. They start, they stop, they bicker and they debate the finest points of the music.
Sometimes, these debates are refined, as in a discussion of what “ma non troppo” means. Other times, not so refined. Someone sounds as if he’s “smothering a baby,” or “trying to make love to a kitchen appliance.” Dorian, at one point, compares the experience to “drinking Drano.”
Davis also effectively stages several scenes in which the actors stand on little platforms – like plinths – and deliver monologues to the audience in a kind of inter-cut mash-up. The cellist, Carl, defines a string quartet as “one good violinist, one bad violinist, one former violinist and someone who doesn’t even like the violin.”
This line is delivered in a droll deadpan by Dave Rideout, in one of the finest and most subtle performances I’ve seen from him. He’s one of the quieter members of the quartet and Rideout makes him the most sympathetic.
Bethany Hart, as young Grace, is exceptional as a woman as nervous as she is talented. She’s knows she’s good, but her downturned mouth betrays her insecurity. It has been a pleasure to watch Hart’s own confidence and talent grow into the maturity we see in this performance.