Quartet, San Diego
From left, Roger Forbes, Jill Tanner, and Elizabeth Franz in "Quartet"
© The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox

Quartet, San Diego

An excellent cast saves the script from its own limited perspectives about four opera singers in their golden years.

By Ronald Harwood

Directed by Richard Seer

The Old Globe Theatre, San Diego

July 25 – Aug. 24, 2014

The premise for “Quartet” seems custom-made for a hilarious evening. Four former opera stars, with long histories, come together to spend their final years in an artist’s home. They share lost glories, simmering resentments and dark secrets. Unfortunately, “Quartet” promises more than it delivers, offering tantalizing mysteries that ultimately underwhelm.

The story unfolds in a common room in the home. Wilfred Bond (Roger Forbes), Reginald Paget (Robert Foxworth) and Cecily Robson (Jill Tanner) are puttering about. Bond makes bawdy jokes at Cecily’s expense, and Paget urges him to cease and desist. Cecily is unaware of this dialogue. She is wearing headphones, immersed in a re-released recording of the three of them (plus one) singing Verdi’s third act quartet from “Rigoletto” — shades of younger years.

This opening scene sets the stage nicely. Bond is the consummate bad boy, Paget a pedantic scold, and Robson a kind but dingy matron. We soon find that the trio is a bit overwrought by a mysterious new resident, who turns out to be Jean Horton (Elizabeth Franz), the fourth from the “Rigoletto” quartet and Paget’s ex-wife.

While Paget and Horton work through their issues, there is an even larger problem. The home’s annual Verdi’s birthday gala is coming up and Bond, Paget and Robson want to perform the “Rigoletto” quartet. Despite their entreaties, Horton opts out.

Why does Horton, an uber diva, shun the spotlight? For that matter, what happened to derail Horton and Paget’s marriage? These are the questions that emerge, punctuated by senility gags and double entendres.

It’s unfortunate that “Quartet” has such a limited palette, as the excellent cast deserves better. The chemistry between Forbes, Foxworth and Tanner is particularly compelling. They make the show funny by sheer force of will.

Still, even with the stale jokes, “Quartet” could work if it only offered a sufficient payoff. Like the aging opera stars, the script seems dated, though it was originally produced in 1999. The revelations we get are ultimately disappointing. Perhaps they would have been more interesting in 1965, when the quartet were stars.

Like the cast, the director does well with limited options. The show is humorous but you get the feeling the jokes looked better on the page. The set is nicely done, as are the costumes, and the wrap-around theater showcases the play well.

The foursome finally comes up with an insightful solution to their Verdi’s birthday problem, which produces a climax that borders on sublime. But then nothing. No opportunity to process. We’re done now.

Josh Baxt

San Diego,
Josh Baxt has an MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and writes for a local nonprofit. His play, Like a War, was produced for the annual Fritz litz. Josh's short fiction has been published in the anthologies Sunshine Noir and Hunger and Thirst, as well as the journal City Works.