Posted by: operatheaterink | February 14, 2012

Review: ‘Dissonance,’ Falcon Theatre, Feb. 14, 2012

‘Dissonance’: A Quality Play With Quality Actors

Skip Pipo, Elizabeth Schmidt, Peter Larney, Daniel Gerroll

Skip Pipo, Elizabeth Schmidt, Peter Larney, Daniel Gerroll


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

The West Coast premiere of Damian Lanigan’s “Dissonance” opened at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank on Feb. 10. The following night, I had the opportunity to dwell on the word “dissonance” as I reflected on the play’s title which applies not only to Mozart’s String Quartet in C Major nicknamed “Dissonance,” not only to the inharmonious musical elements of a string quartet’s repertoire, but to the clashing thoughts and opinions of its members as they deliberate over everything from music to their interpersonal relationships. Jealousies and hurt feelings are uncovered as well as the characters’ successes and failures as musicians. The catalyst is a pop musician who rocks the Bradley Quartet to its core when the female cellist begins teaching him music. She triggers the jealousies of her admirers which paves the way for more revelations.

The leader of the pack is Daniel Gerroll who played the role of James Bradley for the world premiere of “Dissonance” at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, then at the Bay Street Theatre on the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. As the first violinist of the group, Gerroll portrayed his part at the Falcon with a secure demeanor and requisite conceit. His personality towered over the others as he spouted witticisms both often and freely. He and Hal, the second violinist (played by Peter Larney), had loving feelings for Beth, the cellist (played by Elizabeth Schmidt). They reveal how they feel about her after the entrance of the rock musician, and she heroically sets them straight. Her discourse with Hal was one of the high moments of the evening. I seem to recall that the audience applauded, not only for her definitive moment of acting, but because of the courage displayed by her character, which was in part due to Lanigan’s dialogue and its elocution, which was in part due to Crispin Whittell’s directing. Another such moment occurred when Jonny (Jeffrey Cannata) — the rock star — gifted Beth with a Stradivarius. It was one of the truest moments of the evening. Yet what exactly Beth was teaching Jonny remains a mystery.

Another standout moment was when the quiet viola player, Paul (played astutely by Skip Pipo), finally had his say after James’ repeated abuses. Both men were intelligent Brits. Pipo, the introverted one, delivered his well-enunciated lines artfully so that he often evoked a positive response from the audience, either of laughter or support for his character. He found a way to stand out in a role which might not have ordinarily been a standout.

The minimal set was accentuated with well-appointed furniture pieces. The most effective moment of the evening was at the end when the musicians faced upstage with their backs to the Falcon audience. They were being applauded by the patrons at a concert in honor of their tenth anniversary together. The lighting was effectively projected on the upstage scrim. It was a sheer moment of stagecraft wizardry.

The show was well-rehearsed, and even as the actors moved the furniture and props in between scenes, everything on the stage seemed set to a metronome.

That might have been part of the problem. Although I enjoyed the show and the excellent portrayals by the cast members immensely, they did not make me “feel” anything. I was always observing. I was removed from the action. I was amazed how the actors could remain in character and then stand up and move furniture during blackouts or blueouts a second later. This broke any attachment I might have had to the characters emotionally. If “they” were able to detach themselves from their characters so quickly and visibly, then so could I. Mind you, I realize that actors often assist with set changes, but in the case of “Dissonance,” their actions served to alienate me from any emotional involvement.

Also, the only character who actually played an instrument was Jonny, the rock star. He accompanied himself on the guitar and sang. And those were moments when I did feel emotion. All of the other characters pantomimed the playing of their instruments to recorded music. There was a true break between the music and the pantomime so that the illusion never seemed real. They didn’t appear to really be musicians, and for some reason, the dialogue didn’t allow them to converse as true musicians do either. There was something stilted and wooden about the actors’ actions even though they moved well. I believe that the playwright and subsequent directors could vastly improve the overall effect of the production so that we in the audience feel more. There was something very sterile and cold about the evening. Yet the show had a certain rhythm to it, and there were moments when Elizabeth Schmidt, Jeffrey Cannata, Peter Larney and Skip Pipo were radiant and revelatory.

The issue of whether or not classical music and pop might co-mingle was nipped brilliantly in the bud by Gerroll’s James. His decision (via the playwright) was one of the most insightful musical moments of the play and also revealed the fragility of the quartet as a cohesive unit.

The marketing materials describe “Dissonance” as a “witty, buoyant, and ultimately moving play of music and musicians.”

The potential is there. But for all that to happen, what we see and hear on the stage must become more credible and real. There must be more passion, and we need to know the characters even better. I believe that the end result is in the hands of the director and playwright.

Director: Crispin Whittell
Producer: Kathleen Marshall LaGambina
Producer: Sherry Greczmiel
Technical Director: Mike Jespersen
President, Board of Directors, Falcon Theatre: Garry K. Marshall
Set Designer: Francois-Pierre Couture
Lighting Designer: Nick McCord
Costume Designer: Denitsa Bliznakova
Sound Designer: David Beaudry
Prop Designer: Heather Ho
Stage Manager: Cate Cundiff
House Manager-Production Assistant: Joe Farley
Sound Operator: Claudio Radocchia
Public Relations Director-Photography: Chelsea Sutton
Jonny’s Song: Music, Warren Malone. Lyrics, Damian Lanigan

“Dissonance” plays through March 4, 2012.
Box Office at 818-955-8101

Skip Pipo, Daniel Gerroll

Skip Pipo, Daniel Gerroll

Jeffrey Cannata, Elizabeth Schmidt

Jeffrey Cannata, Elizabeth Schmidt