For years now, the Curious Theatre Company has impressed me. Always serious but never pretentious, Curious pushes envelopes while never forgetting that the first rule of theater is — and no, it’s not that you do not talk about theater — that theater must entertain.
Some companies produce only one type of show, the lighthearted musical comedy, for example, and thereby never flex all of their dramatic muscles. Other companies’ raison d’ĂȘtre is to shock and goad, which certainly has its place but quickly wears thin when their productions fail to bring even a tiny bit of pleasure to the audience. Like thespian Flying Wallendas, the Curious Theatre Company walks the tightrope between these extremes without so much as a bobble.
Over the past few seasons alone, Curious’ shows have played to an incredibly wide audience. For devotees of modern American history who also enjoy subversive humor, there was Trumbo: Red, White and Blacklisted. For ailurophiles with a Tarantino-like taste for bloody hyper-violence, Curious put on a roaringly successful version of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. And for the high school square pegs (insert tangential pre- Hollywood Jami Gertz or Sarah Jessica Parker reference here) and either closeted or here-and-clear homosexuals, there was Speech and Debate.
The latest play to grace the Curious stage is OPUS, Michael Hollinger’s capitalization-challenged but otherwise quite engaging slice-of-life musing on relationships. Hollinger’s status as a former violinist explains why OPUS concerns itself with a famous quartet of classical musicians and uses the quartet — even as it sheds old members and acquires new ones — to explore how different people with wildly different personalities can work together in the pursuit of beautiful music.
Those of you who have never been in a band — rock, blues, marching or otherwise — will still enjoy OPUS, but this show speaks most deeply to those who have been. There is something uniquely demented that happens when two or more people decide to play music together. An instant, almost invariably dysfunctional family forms with all the same pre-defined roles that make your trip home every Thanksgiving so often-hideously memorable.
What’s really amazing is that the style of music has little to no impact on the composition and dynamics of the band. The front man, be it the lead singer or the first chair violin, is always the leader. Conflict between this leader and the second-in-command, who could as easily be a guitarist as a second chair violin, is inevitable. The bass guitar or viola player is probably in it mostly for the sex, and the drummer, or his analogue, the cellist, tries his best to keep everyone from killing each other as this would force him into giving music lessons to bored suburb-o-spawn in order to make the rent.
In OPUS, Elliot ( Josh Robinson) and Dorian (William Hahn) vie for the all-important leadership position. With equal love for the music but differing levels of talent, their jockeying for dominance within the group, and the effect it has on the other musicians, fuels the entire play. Alan (David Russell) is the serious musician equally serious about getting laid. Carl (Erik Sandvold) is the slightly older, slightly more grounded one who must balance realities beyond the band with the needs of it. Grace (Kari Delany), the Cinderella story out of left field, is a uniquely talented but as yet unknown variable.
OPUS is a casting coup for Curious. All five actors give ovation-worthy performances, but William Hahn and Erik Sandvold show once again why they are two of my all-time favorite Denver actors. Though their characters are miles apart in temperament and motivation, both men give powerful, assured, playful and compelling performances.
The curtain closes on this play about musicians — that is more truly a play about relationships — in just a few days. Whether for Hahn, Sandvold, Curious, music or simply to be entertained, lend OPUS your ear.
On the Bill
OPUS plays through April 24 at the Curious Theatre Company. 1080 Acoma St. in Denver. Tickets are $18-$42.
For tickets or information, call 303-623-0524 or visit www.curioustheatre.org.