Musicologist Katherine Brandt is determined to discover why Beethoven spent years (1819-1823) working on 33 variations of a music publisher’s common sounding waltz. But, time is not on her side, unfortunately, as she succumbs to the more severe symptoms of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Refusing to abandon her research post in Germany, Brandt is soon joined by her concerned daughter, Clara, and her nurse-boyfriend, Mike. The driven Katherine considers career changing Clara a professional disappointment. But, as her daughter strives to reach out to her, Katherine may discover that she has more to offer than she ever imagined.
Kauffman positions his play in the present and past, with Katherine’s disintegration paralleling Beethoven’s. He, also, smartly utilizes a pianist to perform the different Diabelli Variations to underscore the play’s action.
While previous versions of the piece were directed by Kauffman, himself, here acclaimed local director, Nick Bowling, takes over the reins. Bowling brings a sensitive fullness to the proceedings, allowing true-to-life humor and an emotional directness to shine through. Meanwhile, Brian Sidney Bembridge’s amazing scenic design and Keith Parham’s revolutionary lighting techniques meet with magnificence as Brandt’s and Beethoven’s worlds merge. Here, these two behind the scenes talents help create one of professional theater’s most stunning visual moments of all time.
As Brandt, Janet Ulrich Brooks is a force of subtle magnificence, making her character’s every move brim with a natural power. Jessie Fisher, as Clara, provides uncommon fullness while Ian Paul Custer’s Mike shines with a genuinely humble grace. Meanwhile, Juliet Hart as Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger, the proud keeper of Beethoven’s papers, is a revelation of brisk humor and forthright honesty.
33 Variations runs through October 21st at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont in Chicago. Tickets are $32–$42 and can be purchased by calling 773-327-5252 or by visiting www.timelinetheatre.com.