by Michael Hollinger
Directed by Richard Hopkins
Florida Studio TheatreŐs Keating Mainstage
1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota
Through January 30, 2009

 Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

Years ago I knew a record store owner who claimed he went out to listen to good, classical music as much as possible, in fact more often than to listen to the products he sold.  Why? Because it was like a miracle to see as well as hear musicians start at the same time together, stay together, end together--as One. Michael HollingerŐs intriguing Opus reveals a string quartet personally and professionally striving to work such a miracle.
It is a time when three of the prestigious Lazara Quartet, having decided they must replace violist Dorian, audition Grace. Dorian (magnetic Christian Kohn) has proved mentally erratic though brilliant, while Grace (Susan Hyon, fit as a fiddle appearing supporting yet psyching out the others) is a neophyte performer but extraordinarily talented. With the possibility of a prominent position in a big name orchestra, Grace doesnŐt seem wholly committed to the quartet. That Dorian has disappeared (died?) after living with brash, martinet violinist Elliott (Jeff Plunkett, mesmerizing in his intensity) complicates matters further.  Since second violinist Alan (pleasant Scott Giguere) often succumbs to temptation to stray from his marriage vows, his male colleagues worry Grace may tempt him. Cellist and family man Carl (stabilizing presence Ron Siebert) is nervous about testing for a cancer thatŐs been five years in remission. Now the quartet must prepare for an extraordinary White House performance that will be televised internationally.
The group decide to increase the time and challenge of their appearance by playing BeethovenŐs Opus 131, the only piece left in their recording of his works and a potential triumphŃor its opposite. Opus ultimately concerns, however, not working out musical difficulties but rather the relationships among the group and how they affect each other and their music. Though the actors donŐt actually play their instruments, they evidence excellent training by Daniel Jordan, Concertmaster of Sarasota Orchestra, to look as if theyŐre producing the superb recorded sound. Narration directly to the audience smoothly links scenes of past and present, though a final add-on of what will happen after the action is superfluous. (Such has become the hackneyed ending of so many contemporary plays!) In fact, an initial interview may be just as unnecessary, adding to the predictability of most turns of plot. To director Richard HopkinsŐ credit, the authorŐs melodramatic devices and characterizations, especially of bitchy Elliot and over-the-top Dorian, seem less contrived staged like parts of a concert rehearsal. Hopkins also brings out Michael HollingerŐs many welcome bits of humor.
Nayna RameyŐs scenic design and Michael KlaersŐ lighting convincingly convey informal and formal settings, reflected in Marcella BeckwithŐs costumes. Sound design engineer John Valines gets BeethovenŐs music just right. Dean Curosmith stage manages the 90-minute one-act drama, well worth seeing at FST.

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