Monday, November 23, 2009

Play: Magnum

Opus, written by Michael Hollinger, directed by Braden Abraham, through 6 December, 2009, Seattle Repertory Theatre.

This is an ideal Rep play. Small company (five actors) engaged is a brisk, well-written, well-directed performance. And most important of all for a theater that claims "Repertory" in its name, the actors are all local or have local experience. Most of them I've seen before, and am glad to see again. One-woman road shows and original New York cast performances are all well and good, but Seattle has excellent home-grown talent, and it is a pleasure to see it shown off here.

The five actors are members of the famous Lazaro Quartet, and with five actors for four positions, right off the bat you have an idea of the dynamics at play. The group consists of high-strung Elliot (first violin), laid-back Alan (second violin), elder, grounded Carl (cello) and trippy, mystical, talented Dorian (viola), whose behavior causes him to be ousted from the group and replaced with spritely newcomer Grace. (And yes, the names all begin with the string names). Dorian has "crossed a line" and Grace is a hotswap replacement, unsure of her place in the group or the dynamics swimming under the surface, with a week to prepare for the group's performance at the White House.

The play moves effortlessly through time and space, from the apex of the group to problematic recordings to the breakup and Grace's appearance and back again. Part of it is captured in a portrayed documentary (a string quartet with a rock-star level documentary on them - huzzah!), and you get a great feeling of how it all worked when it all worked together.

Now, like some rock bands (the Monkees come to mind), the actors do not play their own instruments, and if you're going to have the actors play their musical parts in dumb show (the bowing is good, the fingerings non-existent), you'd best have damned fine actors. And the actors are absolutely brilliant in this piece. Allen Fitzpatrick (previous at the Rep in Private Lives) is perfect as the fussy martinet of a first violin. Shawn Belyea has a surfer-dude rock tour attitude as Alan. Chelsey Rives was excellent last year in boom and even better here, both capturing the nervousness of newcomer Grace as well as the drive necessary for creativity and personal success. And Charles Leggett (Toby Blelch in Twelfe Night) is the solid, mature Carl, the cellist. And yeah, I identified strongly with the character, both as a former cellist and often as the supposed grown-up in the room.

And Todd Jefferson Moore as the flighty, druggy, mystical Dorian was by turns wonderful and worrisome, enchanting and frustrating. I have to admit, most of the irritation I felt towards the actor because of his earlier performance in Thom Pain (based on nothing). Such irritation has been paid off by this performance (mind you, I believe the in Thom Pain the audience was supposed to loathe the performer, and Moore had succeeded all too well). He is a perfect Dorian.

And the actors were supporting a snappy, well-written text that cut to the heart of creative cooperation. Perhaps that is another reason for my enjoyment - I've not only been in discussions like those among the quartet, but I have been in discussions EXACTLY like those of the members - a four-way marriage of age and experience and old slights and scabbed-over wounds. Yeah, it captures the nature of cooperation and compromise in a creative effort.

The setting itself is indeterminate, a pair of shifting walls that by turns become the various members' homes, backstage at the performances, and the backdrop of the documentary. Unobtrusive and well-mannered, it neither abandons nor overwhelms what happens before it.

All in all, this is the Rep firing on all cylinders - smart, intelligent, engaging, and enthralling and native grown. An excellent play put together by a talented group. Go see it.

More later,