September 5, 2007

In Harmony With the "Opus" Quintet

There was a line of people waiting for cancellations inside the lobby at the 59E59 Theaters when my husband K and I arrived for the final performance of Primary Stages’ Opus. Outside, others waylaid ticket holders, asking if anyone had an extra ticket for the show. I was surprised by it all, thinking that most people would have been away for the Labor Day weekend. But maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. There hasn't been much new adult fare on New York stages this summer and Opus, playwright Michael Hollinger's backstage drama about the travails of a famous chamber music quartet in the eventful week before a White House performance, is definitely a play for grown-ups.

And the AARP-ready audience on Saturday night showed its appreciation. No one grumbled when the curtain was held for almost 15 minutes so that some of the lucky ticket seekers could be ushered to the few vacant seats. People laughed heartily at the jokes (particularly at the ones aimed at President Bush) and some of the most over zealous clapped at the end of each scene (except, interestingly, for one in which two of the men kissed). Opus isn't a masterwork but there was much to appreciate—James Kronzer's concert-hall like set was elegant; the music, even though recorded and just mimed by the actors, was lovely, although I would have liked to have heard more of it; and the cast was superb.

Casting a play is like cooking (another of my passions): if you get the right ingredients, you're more than three quarters of the way to a great meal. And as any halfway decent cook knows, just any old tomato won’t do. I had some problems with director Terrence J. Nolen's staging of Opus (the scene changes were a little clunky; some time shifts could have been made clearer) but the casting choices he and casting director Stephanie Klapper made were all right on-key.

I almost believed the actors really were the characters they were playing and had somehow just wandered on stage. David Beach was nicely officious as Elliot, the bossy leader of the group; Michael Laurence captured the unpredictable narcissism of Dorian, Elliot's lover and the most talented of the four; Richard Topol brought an intelligent wit to Alan, the quartet's literal second fiddle; and Douglas Rees embodied the appealing sturdiness of Carl, the cancer surviving cellist who is the anchor for the other three. But best of all was Mahira Kakkar, the lovely actress who played Grace, a young violist brought into replace Dorian when he mysteriously disappears; in her hands, Grace's endearing naïveté was leavened with just the right bite of the natural arrogance of someone who knows how superior her talent is.

Kakkar is talented too; I just hope that this young actress, a native of Kolkata, India, and the first Indian actor to graduated from Julliard, gets enough opportunities to show all that she can do. Hell, I hope to see all five of them again. Each one was pitch perfect in Opus and they played well together.

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