The reviews are in for Park Square Theatre’s “Opus”

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Paul de Cordoba, David Mann, Emily Gunyou Halaas and Stephen D’Ambrose in “Opus”

Photo by Petronella Ytsma

Park Square Theatre presents “Opus” through May 29 in St. Paul. Reviews range from “lovely” and “honest” to “discordant and messy.” Thinking of going? Read these excerpts of four different reviews; click on the links to read the full reviews. Seen the show? Share your review in the comments section.

From John Olive at HowWasTheShow.com:

…The characters in …Opus display no …self-doubt. They are musicians at the top of their profession, playing in an internationally renowned string quartet (the Lazare), lionized, elitist, forging firmly forward. They waste no time reflecting on their one-in-a-million luck. Occasionally they do wax poetic about the amazing music they play, as when Grace rhapsodizes, beautifully, about the “dark, chocolate sound” of a special viola, or when Dorian theorizes that, still playing at the age of 90, he’ll come to a musical rest, and “just stop.” Lovely.

But such lyrical moments occur, imo, a tad too infrequently. Playwright Michael Hollinger stays focused on the bitter and often nasty politics surrounding the quartet’s exquisite music.

…the actors are, to a person (and under the firm direction of Mary M. Finnerty), wonderful. Peter Christian Hansen is marvelous, completely convincing as the passionately troubled Dorian. He wisely avoids off-putting scenery-chewing. Every time he and Elliot (the excellent Paul de Cordoba) are together, erotic sparks fly. Stephen D’Ambrose does wonders with the quietly grounded Carl; his work is understated and very affecting. David Mann plays Alan with sturdy comic fair. Finally, Emily Gunyou Halaas, in a difficult role, lets Grace gush and blush but still manages to give her dignity and resonance. We never doubt Grace’s talent.

Indeed, Opus presents us with five performers who are, like the players they portray, at the very top of their game. They make this play well worth seeing.

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Peter Christian Hansen, Paul de Cordoba and David Mann

Photo by Petronella Ytsma

From Graydon Royce at the Star Tribune:

There is lots of chewy stuff in Hollinger’s play. Hansen shows the fragile personality of a genius who knows he should have been first violin but whose mental health relegated him to viola. Alan, fully aware of Dorian’s brilliance, explains to Grace that, “You don’t want Joan of Arc leading you. You might want her alongside you, but not leading.” Dorian’s relationship with the brittle Elliot illustrates how personal passion poisons the professional relationship.

Beyond this, the simple candid details of preparation provide steady entertainment. Elliot turns up his nose at the idea of playing Pachelbel’s Canon for the president. “It sounds like a tampon commercial,” he sniffs. They argue over strident lyric lines and E-flats that aren’t sharp. The actors mime with their instruments to music recorded in C. Andrew Mayer’s sound design.

In his quest to make something more of this glimpse, Hollinger reaches for a dramatic conclusion that feels elliptical in the way a TV show might introduce a smoking gun that comes out of nowhere in the last five minutes of the episode. Tense histrionics argue in favor of the moment, even if it’s a twisty trick. You should decide for yourself, because the play is worth the trip.

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Stephen D’Ambrose

Photo by Petronella Ytsma

From Ed Huyck at City Pages:

Hollinger gets the vibe of musicians collaborating down perfectly (being a violinist certainly helps) and structures the single-act show like a musical piece, sporting slow and quick sections, paralleling earlier moments, or even creating variations on them. It all rises to a tremendous conclusion. Some of the script does feel a bit too Behind the Music, from Dorian’s spiral into madness (punctuated by a scene set to music by the Beach Boys, perhaps just to underline the moment a few more times) to Carl’s health struggles, but the script stays honest to its intentions and doesn’t offer easy answers along the way.

It’s also buoyed by a dynamite cast, who take up the bow and run with the characters…

The performers also have to act at being a string quartet, which they do with some success. They certainly have the silent interplay that distinguishes a chamber group in that they look like they are truly listening to each other play. They “perform” to taped music, and while their bowing is good, the lack of movement on the finger board is a bit distracting. They appear to be playing the same note on every piece all night long, which may work for a Phillip Glass piece, but probably not the epic Beethoven that sits at the heart of the play.

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Emily Gunyou Halaas and David Mann in “Opus” at Park Square Theatre

Photo by Petronella Ytsma

From Dominic Papatola at the Pioneer Press:

If Michael Hollinger’s play, “Opus,” were a piece of music, it would be discordant and messy, filled with themes without variation and chords left unresolved.

Taking seriously the adage to “write what you know,” Hollinger – a violist-turned-playwright – has written a play about a top-tier string quartet struggling through the firing of one of its founding members and the attempt to replace him with a young, talented, but naive violist.

Lodged somewhere between comedy and drama, “Opus” tries to do many things – educate the audience about the mysteries and magic of classical music, interpret the particular dynamic of a small group of people, articulate the pressure inherent in trying to do anything at an extremely high level. But in his zeal to multi-task, Hollinger winds up doing a halfway job all the way around: Characters and situations are only partially developed; crises arise manufactured and are left unplumbed; personal entanglements are presented and then abandoned.

The result is a 90-minute play that moves in fits and starts; one that neither makes us laugh heartily nor think deeply as it lurches toward a melodramatic and unsatisfying climax with a lazy attempt at resolution.

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