Backbiting, betrayal and Beethoven coalesce in Michael Hollinger’s wobbly 2006 drama “Opus,” the story of an acclaimed New York string quartet in crisis receiving a commendable local premiere at the Dayton Theatre Guild.
Delicately directed and elegantly designed by Greg Smith, “Opus,” steeped in conflict encompassing gender, love and repertoire, particularly addresses the dangers of division when pride and ego seek to destroy. As the Lazara Quartet prepares for a high profile engagement at the White House, the troupe is suddenly sidetracked by the disappearance of its passionate yet deceptive and headstrong founder Dorian (an appropriately slick Michael Boyd). Attempting to pick up the pieces in a short amount of time, the sarcastic, high strung Elliot (a dynamic Matthew Smith), laidback Alan (Franklin Johnson, amiable as always) and rational Carl (a wonderfully grounded K.L. Storer) bring meekly ambitious violist Grace (appealing Guild newcomer Mary Mykytka) into the fold with great expectations that scar amid trivial volatility and emotional baggage.
Hollinger, a classically trained violinist, obviously has a fondness for the stringency of perfectionism and the sheer language of music. After all, some of the best moments in the play occur among the quartet’s rigorous rehearsals reflecting their quest to remain harmonious as musicians and friends. However, and in addition to a very choppy opening, he slices the potency of the action with an implausible, heavy-handed climax that finds the troupe too swift to forgive. He also inserts a series of underdeveloped flashbacks notably diminishing the intriguing romance between Dorian and Elliot, leaving Boyd and Smith to fill in the blanks with body language.
Nonetheless, this season opener is a fully engaging experience thanks to enjoyable cast. In fact, Smith, delivering one of his best performances, is completely immersed in Elliot’s deliciously persnickety persona whether succumbing to cat allergies or sharing his detest for symphony orchestras reveling in boom chick. As a whole the ensemble suitably mimics the poise and musicianship of classical instrumentalists thanks to coaching by former Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra violinist Karen Young.
In a surprising turn of events for the local theater scene and the Guild, Greg Smith, after living in Dayton for nearly 30 years, will soon relocate to Jackson, Tennessee. “Opus” is certainly an artistically satisfying farewell.
“Opus” continues through Sept. 9 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Act One: 60 minutes; Act Two: 40 minutes. Tickets are $11-$18. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit www.daytontheatreguild.org.