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Opus by Michael Hollinger – Los Angeles Theater Review

 

THE ELEMENTS OF SOAP

 

Opus by Michael Hollinger - photo by Ed KriegerTheater Review

by Harvey Perr 

published June 30, 2010 

 

Opus

now playing in Los Angeles at the Fountain Theater  

through July 25 

 

Frederica Nascimento’s backdrop bespeaks a world of musical sophistication, even before the lights go out and the play begins. And when the play does begin, Ken Booth’s lighting pinpoints the members of a string quartet with simplicity and elegance. To add to the growing sense that we are about to enter a very special world, Peter Bayne’s awesomely dense sound design makes it impossible to believe that the actors are not themselves practiced musicians. Within minutes, Dorian, the violist, delivers a thrilling monologue (delivered with delicate sensitivity by Daniel Blinkoff) about that moment when the musical notes on a page miraculously begin to course through a musician’s fingers until music and musician are one. One settles down into one’s seat and is prepared for an evening of unmitigated delight.

 

Opus by Michael Hollinger - photo by Ed KriegerBut before you can say Ludwig van Beethoven, we are not so much embroiled in a unique and enlightening theatrical discourse on the art of music as we are thrust into the soap operatic world of Michael Hollinger’s Opus. Dorian, who represents Art, has been ceremoniously replaced by first violinist Elliot, who represents a peculiarly fascistic brand of pragmatism, making all decisions and making sure they are followed. It isn’t that Elliot is not potentially a great artist himself, but that moment described by Dorian hasn’t quite entered his soul. To add to the sense of melodrama that pervades, Elliot has also ejected Dorian from his life, ending not only their professional relationship but their love affair as well. There is certainly more than a kernel of interest in a study of such a complex partnership between artists and lovers, but it is not drawn with particularly layered subtlety, and it is not helped by the fact that there are other lives being explored as well. Dorian’s replacement is Grace, an ambitious young Asian woman with a few secrets of her own and who is alluring to the quartet’s womanizer Alan. Alan is quick and apt enough to be the voice of reason in this group, but, of course, he is also smart enough to  keep his cynicism down to a tolerable level, and thereby seems a character familiar to us from other plays rather than a freshly observed one. And Carl, the remaining member of the quartet, has had a fatal disease from which he has recovered, but given the tenor of the writing, is almost certain to have a relapse which will, in turn, open the way for a bitter confrontation between Dorian, Elliot, and Grace that it would be unfair to say more about, but which will not come as much of a surprise, once you have very easily put one and two together. There are patches of good writing and interesting insights, but even brilliant writing cannot stop a predictable journey from hurtling towards its predictable destination.

 

Opus by Michael Hollinger - photo by Ed KriegerSimon Levy’s direction is clean and uncluttered and especially impressive in the Fountain Theatre’s limited space since the action travels from one apartment to another, from one backstage to another, across the world from New York to London to Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. But Levy has not yet created a seamless ensemble – something that may happen with time – which, in the performance this reviewer attended, only served to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and disconnection. Christian Labano doesn’t inhabit the character of Elliot; he speaks the part with Shakespearean grandeur, giving every line equal importance, enunciating and gesticulating with a broadness that never merges into a recognizable human being. He could give actors lessons in how to project to the second balcony, but the intimacy of the Fountain Theatre cries out for a somewhat less stentorian approach. Blinkoff, after that beautiful beginning – which clearly demonstrates he is a fine actor – has chosen (or been directed) to play Dorian with a certain effeminacy, but it is disconcerting in the times we live in to identify a gay character in this way, and it is further problematic, when the play’s dramatic level gets amped up and Dorian reaches a level of emotional hysteria, that Blinkoff seems to have channeled none less than Bette Davis at her ripest. Gregory G. Giles is asked to do much less, fortunately, as Carl. But, at the moment, the best work comes from the secondary characters: Cooper Thornton’s Alan is excellent, sure and crisp and with a sharply defined sense of his character, providing the part with a depth and intelligence that is not always there in the writing. And Jia Doughman’s Grace is flawless. But, as good as they both are, the relationship between them would be enormously helped by greater understanding and sharper clarification.

 

Opus, the play, squanders its gorgeous promise and the shapely production it has received by wallowing in soap suds instead of wading gently in a clear freshwater stream from which music, not twisted relationships, emanates.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

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