'Opus' requires big feat from small cast

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^ Posted Jan. 4

By Josette Keelor

The four parts of a string quartet, portrayed in Michael Hollinger's "Opus" at Winchester Little Theatre, combine to form a perfect harmony through their music. They also clash to form a dissonant and jarring end to their peaceful 20-year history working together.

"It's an intriguing drama," said Director Sara Gomez. "It's so beautifully written and it's kind of a glimpse into, you know, the lives of these musicians and how they cope with performing with each other."

Rob Elson, who plays cellist Carl, said the play's main conflicts arise out of the characters' love of music and their history together, which he said has "come to a crescendo."

That's when he and viola player Dorian, played by Pat Markland, begin auditioning new members.

At its best, Dorian says in the first scene, performing as a group is like love making.

"At its worst," the character says, "it's like swallowing Drano."

Homer Speaker, who plays second violinist Alan, explained his character as "kind of the glue" of the group. "I'm the person who does things that other people don't want to do. I take care of us going to the White House," he said.

Only days before their big performance, he said, problems arise when the group fires Dorian and hires Grace, played by Arrianna Loose. Since Dorian is in a relationship with first violinist Elliot, the group's decision is a clear threat to the two men's future together.

But Elliot manipulates the group, Chuck O'Keeffe said of his character, "so that he can shine. He wants to be the star."

"Dorian's the better player," O'Keeffe said. "[Elliot] fires Dorian to get him out of the way."

"Opus" offers a lot of firsts for WLT, including the first time in recent memory that the crew outnumbers the cast, its director said. With a ratio of five actors to eight crew members, the show is heavy on the character development, Gomez said. -- "Hence our simplistic set."

But there's nothing simplistic about stage actors giving the illusion of being professional musicians.

For Elson, "It's the first time actually being on stage and working with an instrument, a cello."

"It adds a lot to the show I think. ... I've learned to respect musicians," he added. "... They're just so talented."

Speaker said his ability to read music has helped him in his role. And O'Keeffe has played guitar and piano a little, "but never a violin."

"There's a lot of help that comes with this play," O'Keeffe said.

That help included a score of music performed by the Vertigo String Quartet, Gomez said. She sought the aid of Michael Bloom, fellow WLT performer and first violinist in the Shenandoah Chamber Orchestra, who signed on as the play's violin coach. He also will play prior to each performance.

"So we'll have some live music and a theatrical performance," Gomez said. She expects the play to cater in part to Winchester's already well-endowed musical community centered around Shenandoah Conservatory

Elson, who has prepared for his role by listening to classical radio station WETA as well as watching DVD performances of the play's music, called the experience a challenging endeavor.

Having such a small cast, too, lends itself to the character development, Elson said.

"You really get connected," he said. "[It's] something that really makes a show like this special. You really do establish this relationship within the show. You become the people that you're playing."

Winchester Little Theatre will perform "Opus" from Jan. 11 to 20. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $18.75 for adults, $16.75 for seniors 62 or older and $14.75 for students through college age. For more information, call 662-3331 or email boxoffice@wltonline.org.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com


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