Entries in Tom Mula (1)



In Michael Hollinger's 2006 play Opus, performing chamber music resembles a beautiful girl and lovemaking. With music that “rises, floats together, falls back and arches," claims Dorian, the viola player performing in the world renowned Lazara String Quartet. Indeed, the classical music, the tedious rehearsals and the musicians’ personal struggles reverberate in Hollinger's drama, written by an award winning playwright with a degree in viola performance from Oberlin Conservatory. 

Peninsula Players Theatre fine-tunes Hollinger's 90-minute drama on their Fish Creek stage to open their 77th season with passion and production skill. Including synchronizing the actors’ stroking their instruments with precision to the recorded music that accentuates the play’s rhythms. So that the audience believes these five actors possess the ability to make this string music with refined movement throughout the performance.

Musical movements and interplay drive the production’s structure, where the play’s action alternates between past and present with seamless fluidity. Sometimes the actors face the audience, repeating the dialogue similar to a chorus. At others, the action represents inner emotional turmoil, a practice session. These musicians, First Violin, Elliot (Tom Mula), Second Violin, Alan (Lee E. Ernst), Viola, Dorian (Greg Vinkler) and Cello, Carl (Tom Monison) find the quartet in a compromised situation when they fire Dorian for being unreliable. The quartet needs to prepare immoderately for a televised White House performance when the young prodigy Grace (Cassandra Bissell) auditions. And impresses the remaining string musicians with her profound ability on the viola.  

After the quartet hires Grace, their rehearsals unfold to reveal Dorian’s mental instability and his longstanding love relationship with Elliot. Which then combines with Alan’s loneliness, Carl’s confrontation with cancer and Grace’s insecurity. How this string quartet maneuvers to be “like four instruments playing with one bow” and master Beethoven’s monumental Opus 131 uncovers insight into the inner workings of the performance process with intelligent wit. To examine the arguments, the decisions and dedication required of these, or any other, world class musicians. Gifted individuals that consider interpreting the music and stage performance their supreme passion in this life, often achieved with personal sacrifice. 

Hollinger’s script hints at distinctions between an artistic genius that might border on madness. Ability Dorian represents when his visionary talents allow him to push beyond the excellent into the extraordinary. When does stability become preferred over the irrational behavior that sustains brilliance, for Dorian and the other quartet members in their music? 

This unlikely mix of characters’ flaws and personalities performed by these five stellar actors create an interesting harmony in Opus, even when discordant, for a memorable experience. Bissell holds her own when playing the quirky yet charming Grace and stands strong amid these four dominant men. 

Especially when viewed on Scenic Designer Jack Magaw’s stage that might reflect the interior of any string instrument, elegant and striking, which turns into a surprise when Opus 131 is eventually performed. If the final scenes that concern a priceless Lazara violin overstretch credulity, the audience will already be mesmerized by the music and each character’s drive to play their best, every event an ultimate performance. Carl explains this when he says, “One never desires to be perfect, just closer.” 

Similar to the beautiful women's curves these string instruments can reference, their musical measures and rhythmic movements the actors inhabit on stage performed almost to perfection on opening night. Be sure to catch the Peninsula Players production before it disappears from Door County forever. Similar to the theatrical notes in Hollinger's intriguing Opus, an ephemeral summer pleasure.  

Peninsula Players Theatre opens their 77th season by presenting Michael Hollinger’s Opus through June 24. For information, individual tickets or season tickets please call: 920.868.3287 or click the link to the left   by Peggy Sue Dunigan