New York City Tour UPDATE from Jim Dykes, guide:
“It’s a HIT! Buy Your tickets NOW!" Last night I went to the FIRST performance of the new Moises Kaufman play 33 VARIATIONS starring Jane Fonda on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. I knew by the middle of Act One that we were watching a HIT…even though it was the only first public preview, which is like a dress rehearsal with an audience. The story is compelling, the staging is complicated but interesting, and the performances are FIRST-rate. Kaufman is a genius…he’s taken a subject revolving around a specific point of history involving a classical music composition two centuries old, and woven a quite interesting story together with a modern story.
The play is about a musicologist, Dr. Katherine Brandt (Fonda) who has spent her life specializing in Beethoven to a point where he dominates her conscious and sub-conscious life. As the play opens, we find Brandt has been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and is slowly beginning to lose control of her bodily functions…but her lifelong study of Beethoven has her determined to solve an old mystery which has baffled colleagues for centuries: Namely, what was it about an ordinary little waltz that inspired one of Beethoven’s greatest works: The famous 33 Variations. She dedicates her last few coherent months on this research, which will possibly be her last music thesis, and is determined to complete the research which includes a months-long research trip to Bonn, Germany to the Beethoven archives (where the play is set, surrounded by boxes of music files, diaries and sketch books).
The interesting twist: the play is set simultaneously in the present as well as the past (1819-1822); this is the era when Beethoven is slowly going deaf while composing some of his greatest triumphs including the 33 Variations. What is wonderful is: you don’t have to be a classical music enthusiast to appreciate this very human story…Kaufman has presented it in very
The staging very complex, with scenes from the present overlapping into scenes from two centuries earlier, back and forth and sometimes happening onstage simultaneously. In another director’s hands, this may have been confusing and difficult to comprehend but Kaufman is a (young) master.
The story is complicated a bit by Dr. Brandt’s daughter Clara (the fine Samantha Mathis) and their lifelong mother-daughter struggles as well as her new romance with her mother’s male nurse played by Colin Hanks (yes, his father is Tom Hanks) in a small, unimportant role. However, if I were a betting man, I would say this show is being produced by Hanks’ Hollywood money. His son is fine, but any 30 year old male member of Equity could have done as well, if not better.
Standouts to watch for include Susan Kellermann in a wonderful turn as a humorless German PhD music researcher who eventually becomes friends with Brandt. Also watch for Zach Grenier as Ludwig Von Beethoven reincarnated.
As I said, no need to wait for the New York Times to declare it when it opens : “33 VARIATIONS IS A HIT! Get your tickets immediately!"