WLT ‘Opus’ offers production laced with drama, music

Posted: January 10, 2013

The Winchester Star

Actors Pat Markland (from left) of Inwood, W.Va., Rob Elson of Winchester, Homer Speaker of Martinsburg, W.Va., and Chuck O'Keeffe of Winchester rehearse an interview scene from the Winchester Little Theatre's production of “Opus.” It will be presented this Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Jan. 17-20 at the theater, 315 W. Boscawen St. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Rob Elson (from left) of Winchester, Arrianna Nichols Loose of Middletown, Chuck O'Keeffe of Winchester and Homer Speaker of Martinsburg, W.Va., rehearse for Winchester Little Theatre's production of “Opus,” opening Friday.

Winchester — Tensions are high in the Lazara String Quartet.

Faced with replacing a member days before the highest profile performance of the group’s career, the strain is overwhelming. Will the musicians crack under the pressure or manage to make beautiful music together?

The stage is set for plenty of drama when Winchester Little Theatre’s production of Michael Hollinger’s “Opus” opens Friday, said director Sara Gomez. The show will be performed this Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Jan. 17-20 at 315 W. Boscawen St.

When Gomez read the script for “Opus” the first time, she loved the five characters and how the story moved. It was “compelling and engaging” and there were layers the audience could peel back as the play unfolded, she said.

“There is so much more involved than meets the eye,” she said.

Days before a televised White House concert, the quartet fires its violist, Dorian, and replaces him with a talented young woman, Grace. The play’s action unfolds in the present but also uses flashbacks to tell the story of what happened between the original four members, said Chuck O’Keeffe who plays Elliot.

Elliot is first violinist and one of the founding members of the group. He is also “self-centered and self-absorbed” and believes the quartet is his road to stardom. As such, he tries to control the group to meet his objectives.

“Over the course of the play, Elliot gets more testy and unpredictable,” said O’Keeffe of Winchester. “In his trying to control everything, he gets more and more crazy about trying to get everything exactly as he wants.”

“Opus” is a play about relationships and how people under extreme pressure react, he said. As the tension builds and more about each character is revealed, everyone in the audience may identify with at least one of them.

“You shove five people into a stressful situation, and there are bound to be relationships formed as well as tensions,” he said.

The other cast members are Pat Markland of Inwood, W.Va., (Dorian); Rob Elson of Winchester (Carl), the cellist; Homer Speaker of Martinsburg, W.Va., (Alan), second violinist, and Arrianna Nichols Loose of Middletown (Grace).

Grace is fresh out of graduate school and trying to follow a dream of being a professional violist, Loose said. As a child, she saw the quartet play when they came to her school, and their performance was her inspiration for wanting to become a musician.

But while Grace is talented, she is unsure of herself, especially when playing with seasoned musicians who are all at least 20 years her senior, Loose said. Playing the character has been fun because Grace is so unlike her.

“She is scared that her talent isn’t going to be enough to see her through,” she said. “I am more of a close-my-eyes-and-jump kind of girl.”

Having a play that is so focused on the way the characters interact is a great opportunity for actors, Markland said. He was on the play reading committee that helped choose “Opus” for this season and remembers loving the dialogue. It isn’t a polite formula of one actor waiting for another to speak before saying their lines.

“In real life people are talking over each other, especially as passions are rising,” he said. “The playwright really captures the way people speak.”

The other expertise Hollinger brought to the show was his knowledge of music, Gomez said. Hollinger was classically trained at Oberlin Conservatory and heading for a career as a violist before he switched focus and went into theater. Years later, he returned to playing, soon after “Opus” was written.

The musical aspect of the show created its own challenges, Gomez said. A prerecorded soundtrack comes with the rights to the show, but the actors still have to look like they know how to play their instruments.

She brought in Michael Bloom of Middletown, a member of the Shenandoah Valley Chamber Orchestra, as a music coach to work with the actors on handling instruments and bowing.

Bloom also is bringing in a different dimension to the show with 30-minute musical performances as audience members are coming in and being seated, Gomez said. He will perform with different area musicians before each show.

“It will be a lovely combination of live music and theater,” she said. “It will prepare people and get them into a classical music mood. We can also showcase some local musicians, which I love doing.”

As in music, the flow of the play builds to a crescendo, and to keep from interrupting that emotion, there is no intermission, she said. The play will run about 90 minutes.

Information

Winchester Little Theater’s production of “Opus” will be presented Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Jan. 17-20 at the theater, 315 W. Boscawen St. Tickets are $18.75 for adults, $16.75 for seniors and $14.50 for students. Curtain times are 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays.

To order tickets, contact boxoffice@wltonline.org or 540-662-3331 or go to wltonline.org.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com