“Opus” – Actors Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ November 12, 2012


Actors Theatre, Stage West, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

We all know that the creative process that leads to the artistic performances we witness is fraught with squabbles, interpretative indecision and differences, plus performance styles that influence the process.

Therefore, the bickering and variance among the five people involved in a White House performance of a world-famous string quartet, is at the heart of “Opus,” Actors Theatre’s latest production.  The byplay between the quartet members is interesting but the endless disagreements get draggy and unusually pronounced in the show.  The two hours of arguments is less than fascinating as conveyed by playwright Michael Hollinger, himself a trained musician.  If the artistic decisions Hollinger tackled are at the level of those exposed in “Opus,” there must be lots of boring and dry detail involved in performances rather than true artistic interpretation.

While the Actors Theatre production is artfully performed by the five person ensemble and nicely staged by Robert Kolby Harper, the play’s effect is a mixture of boredom over the often petty squabbles and the realization that not enough true debate about artistic interpretation takes place.  As it is, “Opus” bores more than fascinates.

So much of the backstage stuff that plagues this string quartet seems predictable.  If the players were more mature many of the battles that plod the play down would be eliminated.  That not much about the artistic process or decisions gets discussed suggests that interpretation plays less in most artistic performances than audiences may imagine.  Petty squabbles and immature behavior seem to determine more of the artistic process based on “Opus.”  I hope the artistic challenges prove more significant in most performing arts productions than Hollinger’s lame play imply.

There’s nothing wrong with Robert Kolby Harper’s staging that is limited by the material to trite and rather bland chitchat of no apparent interest to the artistic process.  Musical phrasing, tempos, and what composer phrases imply to performing a musical piece gets short shift in “Opus.”

Ian Christensen plays Dorian, a former ensemble member who was removed because his actions and failures to spend the time required caused him to lack the professionalism necessary for the ensemble.  Kate Haas plays the quartet’s only female member, while Spencer Dooley’s Eliot serves as the group’s artistic definer.  David Dickinson’s Carl let’s his health challenges impact his playing while Pasha Yamotahari’s Alan lets daily life influence his contributions to the quartet.

I was expecting much more from “Opus” including an insightful view into how artistic decisions are truly made.  Based on “Opus,” the silly things that plague many of our lives have much influence over the way music gets interpreted.  “Opus” continues through November 18 at the Herberger Theater Center.  For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-252-8497 or order tickets online at www.atphx.org.

Grade: C