Back in the eighties, I worked at Bressler’s 33 Flavors Ice Cream store. The more obscure Bressler’s proudly pushed being two up from the leading competitor Baskin Robins 31 Flavors. Butter pecan to rainbow sherbet, we had what anyone craved. So, I always thought it was funny when someone, without even looking at the menu board or clambering for a taste, choice a scoop of vanilla.
TimeLine Theatre presents the Chicago premiere of 33 VARIATIONS. In 1819, Anton Diabelli asked 50 composers to write A variation on his waltz. Ludwig van Beethoven accepted the commission. He took the project seriously and then obsessively. Beethoven worked on his mega versions over four years. In present day, Dr. Kathryn Brandt is writing a paper on Beethoven’s 33 variations. The music scholar can’t understand the maestro’s fascination with Diabelli’s original piece. She is consumed with figuring it out. The past and present parallel each other as the two life stories play out together on stage. Both music lovers fixate on the goal to the detriment of their relationships, health and sanity. 33 VARIATIONS is an evocative sonata with an upbeat tempo and a lingering finish.
Playwright Moises Kaufman composes his own variation on Beethoven’s life with a 33 scene tribute. Although the last few scenes seem to prolong the conclusion, Kaufman effectively dissects the building of a masterpiece in both Beethoven’s and Brandt’s life. The intertwined history with contemporary takes a look at the relationships supporting both compositions. The race against debilitation is the focal point in both eras. Beethoven is going deaf. Brandt has Lou Gehrig’s disease. The clock is ticking.
Under the lyrical direction of Nick Bowling, the talented ensemble is in concert. The action takes place around a grand piano played majestically by Igor Lipinski. Assimilated excerpts of Beethoven’s work reinforce his genius and the lunacy of his destitute living conditions. In the lead TimeLine veterans, Janet Ulrich Brooks (Brandt) and Terry Hamilton (Beethoven) sweep us away in their opus. A cantankerous Brooks physically deteriorates. Brooks interjects heart-wrenching vulnerability into her stoic persona. On the musical score, Hamilton seems to enjoy playing the crazed legend. Hamilton fills the stage with Beethoven’s tormented personality. Aided by vivid projections by Mike Tutaj, Hamilton shows us the mania behind the masterpiece. Bowling effectively uses Tutaj’s imagery ongoing to show everything from location to x-ray. There is a particular poignant scene with Brooks being examined. All the notes come together in harmony for this solid transfiguration. The ending is an especially beautiful and moving circle-of-life dance.
33 VARIATIONS is a powerful tale of a lifetime’s work. How much do you sacrifice for the anticipated outcome? And when do you say it’s finished? Is vanilla ever the right choice?
A man living for a rocky road, Dick describes it with 'dysfunction and discovery.'
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont
Written by Moises Kaufman
Directed by Nick Bowling
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm
Sundays at 2pm
Thru October 21st
Buy Tickets at www.timelinetheatre.com