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Photograph: Christopher BurpeeOpus at Redtwist Theatre

Opus at Redtwist Theatre | Theater review

Michael Hollinger’s portrait of a string quartet’s conflicting personalities receives a vibrant Chicago premiere.

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Michael Hollinger’s 2006 play about a string quartet is a moving meditation on artistic vocation, collaboration and the ephemerality of art. Through the lens of a documentary being made about the Lazara Quartet, we gain insight into the four individuals who, as a teacher once instructed, “must play with one bow.” Achieving this cohesion is easier said than done; flashbacks reveal the conflicts that continue to threaten the group. The contrasting personalities of the musicians—from the controlling Elliot (Michael Sherwin) to the emotionally volatile Dorian (Paul Dunckel)—fuel the play’s drama. After Dorian is fired, his absence is strongly felt by the remaining members, including Grace (Emily Tate), hired to replace him.

Though the script at times veers toward bathos, it’s mostly held in check by its humor and movement. The explosive climax feels organic: both surprising and devastating. Simple, effective lighting and set design in Redtwist’s vibrant production, the play’s Chicago premiere, allow for swift transitions from monologue to scene to silence; Jason W. Gerace’s tight direction highlights the play’s composition. As Dorian, Dunckel is especially good; it’s impossible to take your eyes off him in a role that could be clichéd. It’s no secret artistic giftedness and emotional instability often go hand in hand. Yet there’s something deeply human in Dunckel’s portrayal of a charismatic and stubborn artist driven toward perfection—but “never perfect, just closer.”

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