By Marianna Levine
Bay Street Theatre’s 2010 season starts off with the play “Dissonance,” a witty, intelligent drama by the British writer Damian Lanigan. The play, which is named after Mozart’s famous String Quartet No.19 (often referred to as the “dissonance” quartet because of something in the beginning of the piece which sounds slightly awkward), focuses on the intense relationships between members of a string quartet as they rehearse for a performance at Carnegie Hall. The quartet’s delicate equilibrium is unexpectedly disturbed by an encounter between the group’s sole female musician and a handsome rock star.
Lanigan, who has often written about performers in his previous novels and in his work for BBC television, said he was drawn to writing about a string quartet because “it offered an excellent little hothouse of possibilities with lots of dramatic potential.”
Furthermore, Lanigan loves listening to classical music. “It’s my hobby so to speak,” he admits, and therefore writing about music and musicians was a pleasure for him. In the end he thinks, “A lot of writers are attracted to writing about artistic personalities because they basically are trying to figure themselves out.”
“Dissonance” is Lanigan’s first play and it grew out of his desire to write something with a group and perhaps more dramatically serious than his earlier, more comic turns writing for British TV.
“I wanted to work on something that was a collaborative piece. I’m not naturally a loner,” Lanigan states, and adds the first time he heard his words read out by live actors, when the play premiered in 2008 in Williamstown, Mass., he was tremendously invigorated and excited by it.
This New York Premiere will be a somewhat different staging of “Dissonance.” Lonny Price, a Tony-award winning director and veteran of the Bay Street stage, will direct an ensemble of five actors including Rosie Benton, from Broadway’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” Daniel Gerroll of TV’s “Ugly Betty,” Morgan Spector, who was most recently Scarlett Johansson’s love interest in Broadway’s “View from the Bridge,” Robert Stanton of “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and Gregory Woodell of TV’s “30 Rock.”
“A few things have come up during rehearsals this last week, and [with this staging] you get to see the play from a slightly different light. However the main difference for me this time around is that I’ve basically given it to the director. I don’t feel the need to be breathing down his neck,” Lanigan explains and yet does state he has rewritten a few things in the past week to coincide with this new staging.
Bay Street Theatre’s artistic directors Sybil Christopher and Murphy Davis are thrilled to have “Dissonance” kick off a season of entertaining and intelligent drama. After the huge success of the complex play “Dinner” last season, the two realized they needed to respond fully to their audience’s desire for challenging adult dramas.
“The biggest response we’ve ever had from our audience to a play was to ‘Dinner’ last year,” explains Davis. “And this response opened us up to the staging of certain plays we wouldn’t have considered before. Really in the end Sybil’s and my job is to take the pulse of what the community is looking for and mix it with our taste.”
Christopher and Davis had heard about the play back in 2008 when it first premiered, but didn’t have the time to stage it until this year. Davis does add it is a pleasure working with both Price and Lanigan on “Dissonance” because both are such entertaining yet professional individuals and these qualities lend themselves to presenting a drama that is “a multilayered play that is very intelligent, very witty, and very moving. It is great to see a play and be amused as well as touched by it.”
“Dissonance” runs June 1 through 27 and tickets can be purchased from the box office at the theatre on Long Wharf, Sag Harbor for $55 or $65. Previews run June 1 to 4, and a talk back with the actors will follow the June 8 performance. For more information contact Bay Street Theatre at 725-9500.