CHICAGO, Tuesday, September 4, 2012. Chicago's TimeLine Theatre opened their 16th season last Thursday with Moisés Kaufman's acclaimed play 33 Variations. The play, deftly directed by TimeLine's co-founding artistic director Nick Bowling, is multifaceted. First, and perhaps foremost, it seeks to unravel the centuries-old mystery behind Ludwig van Beethoven's (Terry Hamilton) fascination and fixation with what many felt was a mediocre waltz penned by Viennese music publisher Anton Diabelli (Michael Kingston). Why would Beethoven, who was in poor health and nearly deaf, spend his final years between 1819 and 1823 working on this fair to midland piece creating not just one variation (as requested) or two or even three variations but 33 variations?
Paralleling Beethoven's genius and struggles, the story fast forwards 200 years to the present day with music scholar Dr. Katherine Brandt, in a Jeff-worthy performance by Janet Ulrich Brooks, determined to unravel the mystery that turned a beer hall waltz into it's final minuet creating “Diabelli Variations”--considered to be one of the best compositions ever written for the piano.
Brandt, recently diagnosed with ALS,(Lou Gehrig’s disease), travels to Bonn, Germany ignoring her rapidly deteriorating health and the loud protests of her daughter Clara (Jessie Fisher). Upon arriving in Bonn she works exhaustively digging deep into the past assisted by Beethoven archivist Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger played to perfection by TimeLine ensemble member Juliet Hart.
Even though there are many tragedies in the play, 33 Variations is infused with a subtle and intelligent humor that keeps it from becoming dark. The modern-day story is both intensely personal and truly universal giving more than a passing nod to the underlining storylines of the difficult mother/daughter relationship between Brandt and her daughter Clara; the anxieties and insecurities of young love between Clara who finds herself in a relationship with her mother’s young nice guy nurse, Mike Clark (Ian Paul Custer); and Brandt's fear of emotional commitment to her daughter along with Brandt's growing reliance on her assistant (Ladenburger) instead of Clara.
Thanks to the ingenious directing of Bowling; the set design by Brian Sidney Bembridge; Mike Tutaj's projections; Keith Parham’s lighting and Alex Wren Meadows’ costumes, the well-chosen cast has the perfect backdrop to perform their magic.
The story is able to flow smoothly without the intrusion of stagehands changing sets and moving furniture. For 33 Variations entire two hours and 30 minutes running time (including a 15 minute intermission), the set remains untouched. A beautiful Steinway piano is positioned center-stage (with concert pianist George Lepauw at the piano); a long rectangular table is stage left; and a bed is centered stage right. On the back wall, a balcony runs the entire length of the stage. The scenes are transformed by precision video projections that reflect the changing time and place from the interior of an airplane above the balcony to the clouds in a sky of blue floating below, the musical compositions, a compelling hospital x-ray scene, and more.
Tickets are $32 (Wednesday - Friday) or $42 (Saturday and Sunday). 33 Variations is being performed at Stage 773 at 1225 W. Belmont (a half block west of Racine). Tickets are available online, or at the Stage 773 box office at 1225 W. Belmont or by phone at (773) 327 52532. The show runs through October 21, 2012.
Valet parking is available for $10 at the front entrance of Stage 773. Limited free or metered street parking is available in the neighborhood. There is also a metered parking lot located on Belmont and Greenview. Enter on Greenview, south of Belmont.
Upcoming Shows at TimeLine.
• World premiere of Wasteland by Susan Felder, directed by TimeLine Associate Artist William Brown, October 12 - December 30, 2012.
• Chicago premiere of Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West by Naomi Iizuka, directed by Lisa Portes, January 15 - April 14, 2013.
• Chicago premiere of Blood and Gifts by J.T. Rogers, directed by Nick Bowling, April 30 - July 28, 2013.