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Theater Review (NYC): Opus

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Run, do not walk, to the phone and make a reservation for this show. It closes on September 1. With any luck it will move, but there is nothing like seeing it in the original space.

This is why storytelling gets me goofy. It’s the story of a string quartet and its past, present and future. Easy, huh? Not easy, and not boring. I had a writing teacher who used to say, “Trouble on every page. That’s what you want.” And there is plenty of that here.

One member of the quartet has just left, and we meet the other three as they are auditioning the replacement, who turns out to be a woman, under 30 years old, slender and attractive AND an India Indian. I mean, you wouldn’t want there to be a woman on stage who is over 40 and overweight, would you? Anyway….

The story of this quartet has more layers than a flaky pastry. Some funny, some intriguing, some maudlin, some just plain out there. None of the stories is explained to death. The actors, with one slight exception, keep true to the text with the precision of a metronome and the grace of true artists. They, and the story lines, cross and re-cross our field of vision until they weave themselves together. The characters mirror the stories and the music mirrors the characters.

For an important concert they select Beethoven’s Opus 131. This Opus consists of seven movements which are played through without pause. It is the Mt. Olympus of compositions. As the musicians choose, rehearse and perform this piece we see them strip away everything except their connection to their instruments and the music, and then cover themselves up again the minute the music stops.

The show is directed with a sense of fluidity and unity. The actors mime playing their instruments, and the sound effects are handled with extraordinary finesse. What the actors do not mime is the care with which they treat their instruments. It may not really be a 17th century viola, but they way it is treated, you sure believe it is. The set is simplicity itself – burnished wood, four chairs and music stands. The lighting holds the story in a protective cocoon throughout.

In the final moments the story nearly stumbles over its own rhythm, as though the author lost a sense of the play’s lift and flow. Still, it is a masterful piece that will come back to you over and over again, like a recurring theme in a favorite piece of music.

Leave a comment here and tell how long it takes you to buy a copy of Beethoven’s Opus 131 after you see this excellent, excellent play.

Opus, by Michael Hollinger. Directed by Terrance J. Nolen With: David Beach, Mahira Kakkar, Michael Laurence, Douglas Rees, Richard Topol. Set design by James Kronzer, costume design by Anne Kennedy, lighting design by Justin Townsend, sound design by Jorge Cousineau.

At Primary Stages, 59 East 59th Street. 80 minutes. Through September 1.
Tickets online or call 212-279-4200.

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