Story: The Lazara String Quartet has a history as a brilliant classical music ensemble. The four members of the group have achieved world fame and won numerous awards. Now they are on the verge of their biggest triumph: A command performance at The White House that will be nationally televised and seen by 15 million people.
Unparalleled success notwithstanding, drastic changes are underway. Second violinist Dorian, the most gifted but also most unstable member, has been fired and is being replaced by Grace, an immensely talented but unproven violist. Cellist Carl has an appointment with his physician for an examination that hopefully will show full recovery from cancer that afflicted him five years earlier. First violinist Elliott, the temperamental, self-proclaimed leader of the ensemble, has severed his personal relationship with Dorian as well as the professional. And Alan still suffers from a painful divorce from his ex-wife.
The quartet certainly doesn’t need any extra challenges for incentive. Elliott, however, decides that they should perform Beethoven’s Opus 131, “the greatest quartet ever written,” as their piece de resistance on the national stage. The others, perhaps against their better judgment, concur. Will this be their finest hour or their worst?
Highlights: Michael Hollinger, a former violist who studied music at Oberlin College before focusing his interests on theater, crafted this witty, fascinating and always engaging one-act piece that premiered in Philadelphia in 2006.
Completing a season of local premieres, the West End Players Guild has mounted an amusing and highly appealing effort that hits all the high notes under Jerry McAdams’ gifted guidance.
Other Info: The opening night performance was sold out, and for good reason. In addition to the entertaining production of Opus, the audience was treated to a 30-minute pre-show concert by the Cahokia String Quartet. A talented group in its own right, the musicians played a delightful selection for an audience that often was loud or unruly, too busy chatting to acknowledge the artistry on stage.
A Fifth Above Woodwind Quintet played before last Saturday’s performance, while the Quartet Brioso will perform before each of the second weekend’s shows. All in all, that’s quite a delightful bargain for devotees of both theater and classical music concerts.
On stage, director McAdams elicits excellent performances from his quintet of players, although Stephen Peirick would be even better if he could eliminate the ‘lilt’ to his voice that too often is inappropriate. That’s a minor quibble, though, with an otherwise marvelous and compelling presentation.
Peirick has some of the work’s best lines as the mercurial Dorian, who challenges his comrades with his outrageous behavior as much as his brilliant musical interpretations. He’s especially good verbally jousting with John Wolbers, who shines as the petulant and peevish Elliott, and Caitlin Mickey, wonderfully earnest as the determined but hesitant Grace who, like Dorian, has an audition with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Dennis Folwarczny II is outstanding in what he writes is his first non-singing role in St. Louis “since before he can remember.” Folwarczny’s deep, booming voice provides additional ballast to Carl’s laid-back demeanor, especially in an hilarious conversation with Alan about whether the latter is becoming too intimately involved with the fetching Grace.
As for Alan, Jonathan Hey delivers his copious supply of one-liners with comic timing that is rewarding both in spoken delivery and with simple gesticulations. Really, McAdams coaxes droll and delicious interpretations of each character out of his savvy cast like a cool-in-control symphony conductor.
All the players benefit from the guidance of Julie Hoffman and Ann Geiler on proper bowing techniques, and McAdams enhances the story with some clever elements to the sound design. Tony Anselmo’s lighting shrewdly pinpoints various areas of Ken Clarks’ cozy set design, which utilizes only the floor of the performance space surrounded on three sides by the audience.
Renee Sevier-Monsey adds the spiffy attire of the quartet at their White House performance and their ‘regular’ duds when rehearsing, while Rebecca Davidson brings her flair to the props that are pivotal to the plot twists concocted by Hollinger.
Opus is a wonderfully captivating and enriching experience, a fully satisfying entrée preceded by a tasty appetizer delivered by real musicians. Enjoy.
Group: West End Players Guild
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
Dates: April 11, 12, 13, 14
Tickets: $20; contact 367-0025 or WestEndPlayers.org
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb