Archikulture Digest

33 Variations

33 Variations

By Moisés Kaufman

Directed by Aradhana Tiwari

Starring Peg O’Keef, Chris Gibson, Stephen Lima and Becky Eck

Beth Marshall Presents at the

Garden Theater in Winter Garden, FL</strong>

Katherine (O’Keef) is deathly ill, but she’s on one final misison. Far across the North Atlantic lays Bonn, repostiroy of the details of Ludwig van Beethoven’s (Gibson) works. Her daughter Clara (Eck) thinks she ought to stay home, but Katherine is adamant, research is more important than family in her last days. In Bonn she meets Gertie (Janine Papin) keeper of Beethoven’s remaining scribbles. Katherine has devoted her remaining hours to this pressing question: Are Beethoven’s “33 Variations” an elaborate mocking of his publisher Diabelli’s (Brett Carson) weak attempt at a waltz, or is Beethoven showing that in the most trivial works lies unimagined potential if only you are brilliant enough to write it all down?

There’s death and decay here, both Beethoven and Katerina are on their last legs. Beethoven is deeply in debt (as are all great 17th century artists) and while Katherine is solvent, not even Obamacare will save her now. O’Keef brilliantly portrays an accelerating decent into the last stage of Lou Gehrig’s disease as her daughter and her nurse Mike (Mike Deavan) attend to her. Mike dates Clara but medical ethics and a natural squeamishness about seeing your date’s mom naked slow things down. Eck’s Clara is torn between just letting mom do her thing vs. making her life easy in the end, and Gertie becomes fast friends with all of them even as Katherine’s research conclusions and attitude toward family shifts. Mirroring Katherine’s decline is that of Beethoven, his friend and de facto agent Schindler (Lima) also has a tough balancing act. Beethoven is fascinated by the variations, but his Funeral Mass and Ninth Symphonies are more profitable. Gibson bellows and stomps like and old man, he fires servants and then wonders why dinner is late. Lima is the diplomat, here soothing and there blustering, but always true to his maestro as he negotiates advances for paper and ink. He senses money is to be made whether the great one is dead or alive. Opposite him is the self-satisfied publisher Diabelli, it’s his little waltz that Beethoven is idolizing. Where else can a third rate dilatant find the sort of fame that has us remembering him 200 years hence?

Beethoven’s motives remain unclear and Katherine dies unpleasantly, but we are left with a well-constructed story that recalls “Amadeus” and “Wit” with equal clarity. While Beethoven’s motive remains cloudy, Kaufman’s maybe less so (plus he’s still around to argue with). We’ve heard there are only three or seven or 21 plots, yet writers still make “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl” films and plays and novels that make patrons happy. I see Kaufman doing the same here – he’s taken a chestnut of story about an Unappreciated-In-His-Own-Time genius and Tolstoyian Unhappy Family and made a new and moving story. New and novel a can be good, but we sitters-in-seats and discussers- in-bars-afterwarderes need stable reference points to keep us happy and Avant Garde is fine so long as the Avant is within spitting distance of the Old Garde. Incremental change moves us, radical change confuses us. Thanks to Mr. Kaufman and Ms. Tiwari and all the people presenting before us: We are moved, but not so far as to become lost.

For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit www.gardentheatre.org


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