Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Captivating Production of 33 Variations
Also see Richard's review of Strindberg Cycle
33 Variationstakes place in two centuries and on two different continents, and these flawlessly intersect. The contemporary story takes place in New York where Dr. Katherine Brandt (Rosina Reynolds), an attractive, middle-aged woman, is rapidly failing with ALS. She is an aggressively driven musicologist urgently trying to unlock the secret of Beethoven's "Diabelli Variations," a piece inspired by a quite mediocre little waltz penned by Viennese music publisher Anton Diabelli (Michael Gene Sullivan). She travels to Beethoven's home in Bonn to find the mysteries behind the 33 variations.
Katherine returns to New York as the effects of ALS worsen, and a costumer designer named Clara (Jennifer Le Blanc) attempts to help Katherine as the sickness advances. However, Katherine has very little patience for her daughter, who she had hope would follow in her footsteps as a musicologist. At the same time, through seamlessly interlocking scenes, we observe Beethoven (Howard Swain) writing the variations between 1819 and 1823 when he is very ill and growing increasingly deaf. Aided by his boundlessly devoted assistant Anton Schindler (Jackson Davis), they repeatedly try the patience of Diabelli. William Liberatore beautifully plays snippets of the variations onstage to demonstrate Katherine's discoveries.
33 Variations is not a perfect play, yet it bristles with intelligence and honest feeling. Robert Kelly's masterful direction combines with an impeccable cast and outstanding team of designers to make this a charming and wonderful production, with veracity, exquisiteness, and an astonishing burst of comedy.
San Diego actress Rosina Reynolds gives a rich, nuanced, vanity-free portrayal of Katherine. She captures every surface of the scholar's character, especially the frustration and fears of crafting a relationship with her daughter Clara, played exceptionally by Jennifer Le Blanc (Opus, Sense and Sensibility). Jennifer is very credible as the daughter dealing with a dying and defiant mother while Chad Deverman gives an outstanding performance as the goofy nurse-boyfriend.
Howard Swain (Superior Donuts, To Kill a Mockingbird) gives a volatile performance as Beethoven. He captures both the bluster and the susceptibility of the genius. Marie Shell (All My Sons) gives a first rate performance sporting an excellent German accent as Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger, a Beethoven archivist in Bonn, Germany, who oversees Katherine's care both in Bonn and New York.
Michael Gene Sullivan and Jackson Davis give skillful performances as pompous Diabelli and the harried Beethoven's servant Schindler.
Robert Kelly's elegant, precision-tooled staging is a marvel, aided by and supported by Andrea Bechert's thoroughly clever set, Jim Gross' intriguing projections, Steven B. Mannshardt's lighting and Fumiko Bielefeldt's period dress in the Beethoven scenes.
33 Variations played through October 28th at the Mountain View Performing Arts Center, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. For tickets please call 650-463-1960 or online at www.theatreworks.org. Up next is Roger Miller's Big River bring back TheatreWorks own James Monroe Iglehart direct from Broadway's Memphis It opens on November 28 and plays through December 30th.
Photo: Tracy Martin