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Paulanne Simmons

"Opus" Works

Directed by Terrence J. Nolen
Primary Stages
59E59 Theaters
East 59th St between Park and Madison avenues
Opened Aug. 7, 2007
Tues. 7 p.m., Wed. thru Fr, 8 p.m., Sat 2 and 8 p.m.
Sun. matinees 7/29, 8/5 & 12 at 2 p.m., & Wed. matinees 8/15, 22 & 29 at 2 p.m.
$60 (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com
Closes Sept. 1, 2007
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Aug. 4, 2007.

(L to R) David Beach, Richard Topol, Douglas Rees and Michael Laurence in "Opus" by Michael Hollinger. Now in performance through September 1, 2007 at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

At the beginning of "Opus," Michael Hollinger's new play making its premiere at Primary Stages, the four musicians of the Lazara Quartet define themselves in various ways. One says a quartet is made up of "one good violinist, one bad violinist, one former violinist and someone who doesn't even like the violin." Another says a quartet is like "love-making…pulsing like it's alive…like some organism copulating with itself." Still another says it's like a marriage, only with more fidelity.

Indeed the four men who make up the Lazara Quartet do often talk and act like a married couple, only there are four of them: the stalwart Carl (Douglas Rees), the amiable, easygoing Alan (Richard Topol), the domineering Elliot (David Beach) and the inspired though unreliable Dorian (Michael Laurence). The only men that are romantically attached to each other, however, are Dorian and Elliot.

When Dorian disappears, the other three musicians hire the "smart, charming and exceptionally gifted" Grace (Mahra Kakkar) as a replacement. The quartet, in the midst of preparing for a White House performance, now switches their program from the relatively simple Pachelbel Canon to Beethoven's more difficult Opus 131. But the real problem the musicians face has little to do with music.

Without Dorian, the quartet seems to have lost its soul, something Grace, with all her talent, cannot replace. The men struggle to come to terms with their past and forge a new future.

(L to R) Mahira Kakkar Douglas Rees, Michael Laurence, David Beach, and Richard Topol in “Opus” by Michael Hollinger with direction by Terrence J. Nolen. Photo by James Leynse.

"Opus" is generously interspersed with flashback that reveal how the group was formed and arrived at its present state of world-renown. There are also several monologues so skillfully inserted into the action they never seem like an interruption. The play moves with the grace and speed of Mozart at his best… which is always.

Hollinger, who majored in viola at Oberlin Conservatory, has drawn extensively on his musical knowledge, but he is also a sensitive playwright who knows that drama is all about relationships. And under Terrence J. Nolen's capable direction "Opus" becomes an exploration of how people work, live and love together.

Although Kakkar is consistently and appropriately earnest and sincere, the men never lose their irony or their sense of humor, through illness (both mental and physical), heartbreak and professional disagreements. Even the less likeable members of the quartet generate sympathy.

In fact this excellent cast works together in a way that exemplifies the spirit of ensemble that is the core of the play. Each actor contributes his or her unique abilities and, at the same time, supports the abilities of fellow actors.

At one point in the play the musicians remember the advice of a music coach named Mickey: "You must be a like four instruments playing with one bow." Is this ever possible? Can four hearts beat together in unison?

If "Opus" insists on the impossibility of four performers becoming one, it also suggests that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. And perhaps it is not the impossible goal but the courageous journey that counts.


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