This Improvised Opera About the Homeless Is Surprisingly Good

Julia Aks as Richie and VIncent Robles as Bryce
Julia Aks as Richie and VIncent Robles as Bryce
Photo by Amanda Mc Raven

Opera is a challenging art form — and opera improvised more challenging still.

In The Discord Altar, a musical ensemble rises to that challenge, creating harmonious on-the-spot vocals to accompany a set libretto by Meghan Brown and instrumental music (also improvised) by pianist Ann Baltz and percussionist Ray Salas.

The play is set at “a forgotten corner of Los Angeles” and revolves around a community of homeless people, each of whose lives had come together under the tutelage of their singing teacher, David. David has just died, and when we meet them his grieving students are constructing a makeshift memorial to his memory.

His passing puts all these already vulnerable people under stress. Folks are weepy to begin with, and tensions heighten with the appearance of Bryce (Vincent Robles), an ex-member of the group who’s since secured a record contract. The mourners are even angrier at Emily (Alina Roitstein), David’s daughter, who shows up to bitterly deprecate her father for abandoning his family.

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Brown’s script is culled from interviews and interactions with the homeless and aims to draw attention to their plight. All the familiar characters are there: the troubled vet, the teenage runaway, the struggling drug abuser, the mad lady with her pushcart.

The main problem with the show, whose intent is of the highest caliber, is that the script never coalesces into a cohesive story. Instead, it persists as a series of fragments. The characters’ interactions are predictable, and there’s no punch to the dialogue. It’s hard to stay interested.

Most of the dramatic performances are good, however, with Julia Aks especially effective as the young teen. Everyone’s singing is superb. And Jeanine Ringer’s scenic design and Stacy McKenney’s lighting underscore the play’s poignant elements.

The Secret Rose Theatre, Magnolia Blvd., Noho; through May 3. 818-898-9597, www.operaworks.org/asap.


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