33 Variations Review - A Meeting of Minds

The award-winning Actors Co-op company has blended a gripping script with faultless acting to create a production which is both original and involving. Playwright Moises Kaufman crafted a brilliant study of the past as it interweaves with the present, the two coming closer and closer with each of the 33 scenes in the play. It is said that Beethoven was obsessed with a few notes and continued to work on variations of that simple melody for years. Two hundred years later, musicologist Katherine Brandt, a tenacious researcher who must know why Beethoven became obsessed – becomes, along the way, as obsessed as Beethoven ever was in her relentless pursuit of his motivations. 

Greyson Chadwick and Brandon Parrish - Photo by Lindsay Schnebly

But 33 VARIATIONS is not a dull academic investigation of facts. It is also a poignant look at a troubled mother-daughter relationship and the ravages of disease on people we care about. Katherine, it turns out, is suffering from ALS, a progressive and terminal disease which will leave her completely disabled. Until her diagnosis, her work absorbed her life and gave her an excuse to avoid getting close to her daughter Clara (Greyson Chadwick) for years. But now time is short. Will the two women bridge the gap?

Bruce Ladd and John Allee - Photo by Lindsay Schnebly

Katherine’s illness parallels Beethoven’s ill health, as he gradually loses his hearing and deteriorates physically. Perhaps the two share more than a musical conundrum.  Modern-day New York and Bonn become enmeshed with nineteenth century Austria as Beethoven (Bruce Ladd) and Katherine (Nan McNamara) come to understand each other even though separated by two centuries and an ocean. The theme of the interwoven pervades the piece, as lines become lyrics and lyrics become lines, as past and present become indistinguishable, as relationships develop and blossom or falter and fail. Even those closest to the two principals exhibit parallels as they struggle to offer assistance to these two very independent and stubborn people.

Director Thomas James O’Leary skillfully develops the interplay between time, place, and characters. The superb cast members develop the multi-layered personalities of each characters with competence and compassion. Special kudos to Nan McNamara (Katherine) and Bruce Ladd (Beethoven) for their moving portrayals of individuals whose bodies are failing while their minds remain keenly alert.

Bruce Ladd - Photo by Lindsay Schnebly

Nicholas Acciani’s set is simple yet very effective, allowing for past and present to fit together and sometimes cross the boundaries of time. Andrew Schmedake’s lighting, David B. Marling’s sound, and Vicki Conrad’s costumes bridge 200 years competently and proficiently. But do not expect Beethoven to enter in a carriage pulled by a team of horses (described in the original script). I’m afraid that he has to depend on his own two feet.

Bruce Ladd as Beethoven and Nan McNamara as Katherine - Photo by Lindsay Schnebly

From every perspective, 33 VARIATIONS is a winner, blending music and words into a symphony of emotions. The actors even get to sing a little. This is a production that you shouldn’t miss on a multitude of levels. And it’s fun too.


33 VARIATIONS runs through March 17, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays (Saturday matinee scheduled for 3/18/17 at 2:30 p.m.) The David Schall Theatre is located at 1760 N. Gower Street, Hollywood, CA (on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood). Tickets ranged from $20 to $30. For information and reservations, call 323-462-8460 or go online.            

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