You might expect a look at the behind-the-scenes interactions of a string quartet to provide little food for drama, let alone be the source of not one but two distinct plays world premiering within a year and a half of each other. You’d be wrong.


As Michael Hollinger’s Opus proved in its 2010 Los Angeles Premiere at the Fountain and Damian Lanigan’s Dissonance does now in its West Coast Premiere at the Falcon, the four musicians who make up a string quartet can stir up every bit as much dramatic (and occasionally romantic) conflict as your favorite daytime soap.

The two plays are hardly carbon copies of each other, however. Unlike the more twisted relationships of Opus’s four characters (two of whom had once been same-sex lovers), Dissonance’s foursome keep things a tad more light-hearted (and resolutely heterosexual), with the addition of a gazillion-record-selling rock star to spice up the mix.

Though not as spellbinding as its predecessor, Dissonance nonetheless generates enough sparks under Crispin Whittell’s astute direction to keep its audiences entertained, as past relationships (and one brand-new one) compete with more music-related conflicts on Francois-Pierre Couture’s gorgeous, abstract set.

The first of said conflicts revolves around just how fast or slow Mozart’s C Major Quartet (K. 465), aka the “Dissonance Quartet,” ought to be played, with first violinist James (Daniel Gerroll) insisting the foursome slow things down while second violinist Hal (Peter Larney) declares the tempi “too quick” in no uncertain terms.

We soon learn that in the world of classical music, second violin has about as much say in matters musical as the American V.P. does in determining U.S. foreign or domestic policy, though he at least has more clout than a string quartet’s butt-of-jokes violist, in this case the unfortunate Paul (Skip Pipo). Meanwhile, cellist Beth (Elizabeth Schmidt) does her best to stay noncommittal and/or smooth things over, though that is hardly an easy matter considering the fires she stirs in at least two of her fellow quartetists.

As the Bradley Quartet—named after its leader James Bradley—prepares for its tenth-anniversary Carnegie Hall concert, Beth reveals her latest side job—as classical music tutor to rock superstar Jonny (Jeffrey Cannata), who knows about as much about Beth’s world as she does about his, yet seems more than willing to learn from his oh-so-attractive teacher.

Like Jonny, the less classical music-savvy of audience members may find themselves a bit better informed about the workings of a string quartet when they leave the theater than when they came in. (This reviewer certainly did.) Still, Dissonance’s main concern is in keeping its audiences entertained, something it does quite niftily at the Falcon.

Gerroll is so authentically English and obnoxiously arrogant as James that you may end up giving yourself a pinch or two as a reminder that it’s an American actor up there and not the Brit twit he appears to be. A terrific Larney makes Hal as brash and confrontational as his nemesis, though perhaps a good deal more likely to stir up romantic or sexual longings among Bradley Quartet fans, that is unless they’re more inclined by nature to go for its female member. The lovely and talented Schmidt shines brightly as Beth, and particularly so in an eleventh hour monolog in which she puts one of her colleagues firmly in his place. As the much put-upon Paul, Pipo adds another fine performance to a résumé that includes his Scenie-winning turn as German physicist Werner Heisenberg Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen. Finally, Cannata (who played the sitcom-ready boy-next-door lead in the Falcon’s The Psychic—and marvelously so) is every bit as rock-star sexy as a rock star should be, and a crackerjack actor (and acoustic guitarist) to boot.

Scenic designer Couture’s hanging slatted wood panels and similarly constructed set pieces look absolutely stunning against a curved-screen backdrop whose rich primary colors vary according to scene and mood, thanks to lighting designer Nick McCord, who also knows just how and when to raise, lower, and focus light in order to up the dramatic ante. Denitsa Bliznakova’s costumes reflect the personalities and occupations of their wearers to perfection. David Beaudry has created an excellent classical music sound design, while prop designer Heather Ho gets top marks for the production’s assorted accoutrements. Cate Cundiff is stage manager.

Those who fell under Opus’s heady spell may need to adjust their expectations for the considerably lighter (yet nonetheless highly entertaining) Dissonance. I enjoyed both, and will never again be able to see or hear a string quartet without wondering just who’s done what to whom.  My guess is you won’t be able to either.

Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.

–Steven Stanley
February 12, 2012
Photos: Chelsea Sutton

Comments are closed.