Creative and Complex 33 VARIATIONS at Langhorne Players

by Jean Brenner

Rupert Hinton and Todd Gregoire in a scene from 33 VARIATIONS at Langhorne Players.

When I see a play so interestingly written, well-acted and beautifully-directed as this one, I want to shout from the rooftop, “Go to see 33 VARIATIONS at Langhorne Players before the run ends!”

Yes, this is a rave review. This play with Beethoven’s music is a creative, complex work about people – several people from our decade in contemporary attire and several from the 19th century in appropriate period costumes.

These characters are people we all know…a mother and daughter who love one another but lack understanding and communication skills… a musician who is haunted by melodies he must share and the friends who support him…two people who have debilitating diseases and the friends to help them deal with the problems.

The action flows seamlessly from 21st century primarily on stage right to 19th century occurring mostly on stage left, with many scenes from both periods occurring in center stage.

VARIATIONS, a play written by Moises Kaufman, tells a story of musicologist Dr. Katherine Brandt on a journey to uncover the reason Ludwig von Beethoven wrote 33 variations on four notes from a waltz written by composer Anton Diabelli.  We watch research scholar Dr. Katherine Brandt pursue her Beethoven research in Bonn, Germany, more and more determined to complete her work as she becomes increasingly incapacitated from her recently diagnosed ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease.)

At the same time, in a parallel universe, we watch as Beethoven gradually loses his hearing even as he frenetically continues to write more variations on four notes from a Diabelli waltz.

Yes, this is a play about the progressive deaths of two people, which could be an audience “downer,” but, if you have seen Man of La Mancha, Julius Caesar, Tuesdays with Morrie or Love Story, for instance, you know they are not just about the deaths of strong persons with missions, they tell the story of their fascinating journeys.

Attention to detail is so good the audience is not aware of the director’s hand, as it should be. But, I noticed it! I saw the careful casting, the thoughtful character development, the appropriate pacing. Director Jack Bathke did everything right as did producer, JoAnne Pinto.

Playing the difficult role of Dr. Katherine Brandt is Patricia Bartlett who brings her impressive music education knowledge to the honesty of the character.

Tami Feist, once an opera major in school, is quite good as Brandt’s daughter, Clara. Tami also is the set designer for the show.

Regardless of his role, Aaron Wexler always brings home a worthwhile, solid performance, this time portraying nurse Mike Clark who falls in love with Clara while he cares for her mother.

Playing Ludwig Van Beethoven is Rupert Hinton who has a long list of performing credits to his name.

He is larger than life in this role, determined to the point of depleting his money and starving so that he will complete his many variations and have them published as a separate book. He shows weakness when needed and is outrageous at other times showing the manic and distraught composer struggling for perfection.

His long-suffering and adoring assistant, Anton Schindler, is believably portrayed by Todd Gregoire as is the role of publisher Anton Diabelli played by Ross Drucker. The men become their characters.

The strong character of librarian Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger has been developed well by Susan Blair. With her perfect accent and stoicism, she cares lovingly for Beethoven’s original manuscripts in a protected library vault in Bonn, Germany where Kathryn goes to research her book.

Every one of the actors also is a singer. Near the end, they all sing touchingly and in harmony.

The show is about Beethoven and his music— as he shows that various themes could be developed from just four music notes, as each variation is played skillfully and with feeling by on stage pianist Susan den Outer.

Unfortunately, not everyone who watches the play understands it, however.  At the conclusion, as I and others wiped away our tears, the woman in front of me brought me back to reality as I heard her say emphatically to her companion, “I still do not understand what a ‘variation’ is.”

She did not “get” it.  How sad. I wonder if she appreciated the beautifully wrought play she had just seen.

33 VARIATIONS plays now through August 31 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, several week nights at 7:30 and a 3 PM matinee on Aug. 25.

by Moises Kaufman
Directed by Jack Bathke
August 16 – 31, 2013
Langhorne Players
Tyler State Park
Rt. 332, Newtown, PA 18940

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