Making beautiful music together is an exercise of love and hate in Damian Lanigan's "Dissonance," making its New York premiere as Bay Street Theatre's auspicious summer-season curtain-raiser.
Taking its title from Mozart's C Major Quartet, known as the "Dissonance Quartet," the play's discord echoes disharmonies in the musical piece. "It's too quick," barks James, imperious first violin and namesake of the Bradley Quartet. Hal, second fiddle, disagrees. "Too slow," says he. Cellist Beth politely concurs. Paul, violist and James' kid brother, just wants everyone to get along.
They're rehearsing for a rare Carnegie Hall concert, marking the quartet's 10th anniversary. But personal gripes keep getting in the way. James, a former prodigy, exhausted his parents' ego genes, for there are none evident in Paul, who fetches "the captain" water and recites glowing reviews from memory. James overcompensates for his lack of confidence by demeaning those he regards as inferiors. As James, Daniel Gerroll makes it seem like world-championship sport.
Morgan Spector, as Hal, puffs himself like a cockatoo preparing to mate by challenging the older, dominant male. The object of his attentions, if not affections, is Beth, demure but determined as played by Rosie Benton. She regrets past dalliances with Hal. Robert Stanton tries to retain a shred of pride for his character, even as Paul equivocates and bows to his brother's every cruel whim.
It takes a rock star to tip this awkward balance. The quartet's record label has asked Beth to give its hottest recording artist, Jonny - formerly of the Sweater Girls - classical music lessons at $1,000 an hour. Gregory Wooddell displays a disarming earnestness for artistic growth, though his character's ignorance stretches credulity. Would a rock star really not know what a Stradivarius is?
Unsurprisingly, there's an instant spark between Beth and Jonny, who wants the quartet to play on his next CD. Is it the beginning of the end for the Bradley 4? Of civilization as we know it?
The understated (except for Jonny's pad) rotating set by James Noone, bathed in Kirk Bookman's subtle lighting, Tracy Christensen's character-enhancing costumes and Jill BC Du Boff's classical sound accompany the players artfully. Director Lonny Price keeps the alternate bickering and wooing on a smart pace that has us sympathizing with each musician in each dissonant clash. Lanigan's intelligent, music-lovers drama deserves a shot at a longer New York/London run.
WHAT New York premiere of BBC writer Damian Lanigan's "Dissonance"
WHEN | WHERE Tuesdays-Sundays through June 27, Bay Street Theatre, Sag Harbor
INFO $55-$65; baystreet.org, 631-725-9500