Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, op. 131, contains seven movements, played without interruption. Wagner later described the mood of each section, using phrases like “the disconsolate morning prayer of a soul in distress,” “new yearning for life,” “whims, humor, hilarity,” “transition to resignation,” and “painful renunciation.”
In “Opus,” violist-turned-playwright Michael Hollinger has fashioned an absorbing study of the members of the Lazara String Quartet, who are going through these very emotions as they struggle to ready Beethoven’s masterwork for a performance at the White House. Even the play’s structure—numerous scenes, different locales, shifting time periods — echoes Beethoven’s seamless arrangement, and the remarkable production at Curtain Call hits the right note at every turn.
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Rd., Latham
WHEN: through Nov. 17
HOW MUCH: $23
MORE INFO: 877-7529, or www.curtaincalltheatre.com
Violinists Alan (Isaac Newberry) and Elliot (Kris Anderson), cellist Carl (Chris Foster), and violist Dorian (Paul Dederick) have been together for years, through personal ups and downs: Alan’s marriage and divorce, Carl’s bout with cancer, and a volatile romantic relationship between Elliott and Dorian. Musically, they have thrived, winning a Grammy, but now they are struggling with Dorian’s mental instability. Or at least Elliott, who’s wound a bit tight himself, is.
Replacing Dorian would be an artistic risk because he is a brilliant musician, but the group decides to give Grace (Elizabeth Pietrangelo) a shot. She’s hired.
The scenes, fluidly delineated by shifts in Greg Goff’s pinpoint lighting, continually reveal new musical and personal tensions, fresh connections, and a startling climax that will have you holding your breath. Hollinger further keeps us interested by occasionally having the characters address the audience directly, striking a fine balance between telling and showing.
Scenic designer Will Lowry has created a clever set, replete with features of a stringed instrument: when you enter the theater, look up. Jay Spriggs’ lush sound design (the actors do not perform the music) never misses a beat, and Jeremy Ward’s stage management completes the strong work of this tech team.
About this cast (and Barbara Richards’ pitch-perfect direction), not enough can be said. They work off each other as dexterously as musicians tossing around a tune. CCT newcomer Pietrangelo plays Grace with a charming balance of wariness and enthusiasm. Fresh from conservatory, with her father’s words about making a living still ringing in her ears, Grace wonders if she would be better off accepting a secure orchestral position than getting involved so intimately with this all-male crew. She’s right to wonder.
The four men are played by CCT veterans, and it’s no discredit to their previous work when I say I have never seen them better. Dederick captures the heartache of a talented young man, disappointed in love and frustrated by being unable to keep his mental demons under control. Newberry deftly underplays the easygoing Alan with languidness and an occasional twinkle. Anderson, known for his tour-de-force portrayals of manic characters in farces, buttons up just enough here as the autocratic Elliot to be chilling. And Foster brilliantly creates the emotional arc of a joke-telling guy for whom there’s ultimately the most at stake.
The show is here until November 17. I’ll be seeing it again.