IF YOU GO
What: Play about the interpersonal dramas of a world-class string quartet
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday & Sundays through Jan. 24
Where: 2267 1st Street, Fort Myers
Cost: $42 & $38; various discounts & specials available
Information: (239) 332-4488, floridarep.org
Something else: Free parking across the street
On the Web: Gallery of cast photos from "Opus," plus more information on the show
Review: Lack of harmony plays quite well in fine 'Opus' signonsandiego.com
"Opus" review at TheaterMania theatermania.com
Review: All is in tune in "Opus" nypost.com
It starts with a joke and ends with a bang. In between, there's 90 minutes of music, jealousy, screaming fits, petty sniping, a tumor, a toilet plunger and a daring lip lock or two. This is Florida Repertory Theatre's "Opus," and these actors make beautiful music on the stage.
Michael Hollinger crafts an adoration of treble clefs into every word of his script, yet, audiences don't have to know anything about Beethoven to appreciate "Opus." If you do know Mozart from Madonna, that's even better. The play is about, well, a lot of things, but mostly desire - having, wanting, needing, getting and losing.
There's a string quartet - two violins, a cello and a viola - and viola player Dorian (a spectacular Brendan Powers) has "gone buggy." The group plays the White House in six days - so in comes nervous and untested (but talented) Grace (Rachel Burttram). The play splices scenes of the intense rehearsal process (featuring Beethoven's Opus 131) with flashbacks of the turmoil around Dorian's rancorous departure.
Director Maureen Heffernan, who helmed "Dancing at Lughnasa" and "Rabbit Hole," strikes a delicate balance, playing the emotional moods of the play against the discordant harmonies in the music. The intricate timing of the piece reveals a deft hand at the bow. The actors play the audience like a veritable fiddle - a run of laughter, a gasp of shock, a lull of slow, delicate, conversational strings and even a few crashes of anger and surprise.
The jealous tendrils of desire wind through nearly ever scene. Grace (Rachel Burttram) wants a safe career, "with dental insurance," yet feels the pull of creative freedom. Elliot (Giles Davies) obsesses over a priceless violin, while Alan (Chris Clavelli, at the perfect level of smirk), starts casting covetous eyes at Grace. Everybody wants something, nobody is happy - and the music swells ever louder.
No one actor outshines any of the others, although Davies, the group's first violin and putative leader, comes close through sheer force of his wide-eyed, nostril-flaring, thick-maned personality. Heffernan does well to hold his magnetic stage presence back from a descent into scenery-chewing.
Davies directs his character's passion well; his anger at Dorian's theft of a prized violin is palpable - as is Brendan Powers' violent hurt during the subsequent confrontation. Their characters were once lovers, you see, and all Elliot wants now is the violin.
Powers - free of the demands of carrying a show - digs into the broken Dorian and finds not a cliche "tortured artiste" but a wild, spirited, unruly character. He captures perfectly the savage brilliance - and child-like emotional state - that accompanies towering artistic talent throughout the ages.
Clavelli's mensch is the perfect counterpoint to Davies scream-and-leap histrionics - the crumbling friendship between the first and second violinists is a mini-drama in its own right. Rachel Burttram is note-perfect as an unsure youngster trying to find her balance inside an established group, while Tom Nowicki shambles along as the peace-maker, earth-spirit, den father.
Ray Recht's stark set evokes the feeling of a concert stage. The airy emptiness also conjures visions of a fresh page of sheet music or else a musician's barren, sterile life - car to hall to stage to hotel to car to plane and repeat it all over again. The clever placement of the chairs on the stage also suggests a subtle snubbing of the group's viola player - no matter which actor is sitting in the chair.
The only false note comes from the fact that the actors aren't actually playing their instruments. It is a small issue - but there's a delicacy in the way musicians handle the tools of their trade - and it is sometimes too obvious that the sounds aren't coming from the violins, cello and viola on stage.
Beyond that, "Opus" makes beautiful music. The cast - especially Giles Davies and Brendan Powers - is superb. Musicians - and their drama - has never been so much fun to watch.