Tickets: adobetheater.org, 505.898.9222; info@adobetheater.org

Quartet by Ronald Harwood

Directed by Marty Epstein

What strikes me about The Adobe Theater’s production of “Quartet” is that, although it’s about four people in their dotage, together they are young again. Animated by the emotional currents they generated back in the day—envy, libido, ambition, camaraderie—and unresolved issues among them, the four are still passionately engaged with one another. Canes and pains and reduced circumstances don’t matter a bit.

Reggie, Cissy and Wilf are former opera singers living in a retirement home for musicians. They were 3/4s of a famous recording of Verdi’s quartet from Rigoletto, so of course the fourth member must show up. She does. Jean (Alaina Warren Zachary) is the most famous of the quartet and frankly, she is a royal pain. As Warren Zachary plays her, Jean’s intensity doesn’t let up for a moment. She insults Cissy (Georgia Athearn), puts down Wilf (Philip J. Shortell), and terrorizes Reggie (Mario Cabrera)—who happens to be one of her ex-husbands. Jean is self-involved yet recognizes the depths to which she has fallen. She has an excruciating secret, and takes out her anguish on her former colleagues.

There is much good humor and many comic turns in this play, beginning with Wilf’s indecent proposals to Cissy while she’s got her earphones on and can’t hear him. Shortell and Ahearn often act together (Arthur Miller’s After the Fall comes to mind) and their easiness with each other enhances our belief in their characters’ fond friendship. It must be difficult not to overplay Cissy, whose ditziness is more sinister than mere absent mindedness. Athearn downplays Cissy’s encroaching dementia, and I enjoyed her more low-key choice. She still gets lots of laughs. Shortell is convincing as a friend who is concerned that the home will evict Cissy if they find out she’s going downhill fast, and helps Reggie to cover for her.

Reggie is understandably out of sorts about Jean’s arrival at the home, although we don’t learn exactly why until later in the play. Cabrera inhabits the character with a flustered grace that shows a strong urge to sit with his nose in a book so he doesn’t have to deal with the past. 

When Wilf tells Jean about the upcoming concert in honor of Verdi—at which the four are expected to sing the quartet—she refuses. This catalyst sets in motion a cascading set of plot resolutions, culminating in a touching scene at the end. Director Marty Epstein leans toward character-driven pieces (Oleanna, Absurd Person Singular, and the upcoming Lettice & Lovage, for example) and his guiding yet invisible hand helps make this an emotionally affecting play.

If I have quibbles they would be that some set-piece and costume decisions are a bit odd, which is unusual for The Adobe. A grand piano would make more sense than an upright, for instance, but I assume there were logistics problems about which I know nothing. Most of the set evokes a genteel-shabby retirement home as it should. Technical Director Shannon Flynn and Lighting Designer Ray Rey Griego did a wonderful job—in a complicated show about opera singers, no cue goes unmissed. 

—Stephanie Hainsfurther publishes ABQArts.com.

Photo above, (l. to r.): Mario Cabrera (Reginald Paget); Alaina Warren Zachary (Jean Horton); Georgia Athearn (Cecily Robson); Philip J. Shortell (Wilfred Bond).

Photo by Dan Ware.

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Quartet runs through May 12 at The Adobe Theater, 9813 4th Street NW. Friday and Saturday performances start at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. General Admission $20, Discount $17 (Seniors, Students, ATG/PBS Members, Military, First Responders) and PWYW Thursday, May 9. 

Read our interview with Alaina Warren Zachary, playing Jean in Quartet, on ABQArts.com.

Photo credits: Front page photo by Kathleen Welker. Top photo by Dan Ware. Bottom photo by Russell Maynor.