33 Variations, Piece by Piece
Charles Kieser ’14
What is 33 Variations about? Actor Daniel Cimento ’15 thinks it’s “open to interpretation,” though he sees the theme as “resolving family relationships.” Jack Sheedy ’14 thinks it’s about influence: “you can be so dedicated to a person that you end up living their life.” Kate Mattimore ’14 says it’s about “learning to love the mediocrity in life.” 33 Variations involves these themes and more.
In the last years of his life, Ludwig van Beethoven struggles to write his 33 Variations on a waltz by Diabelli. In the present day, Dr. Katherine Brandt obsesses over Beethoven’s work, at the cost of her health and relationship with her daughter. One could draw several parallels: Brandt’s ALS and Beethoven’s deafness, Brandt’s fear of “mediocrity” and Beethoven’s perfectionism, Brandt’s emotional distance and Beethoven’s reclusiveness. True enough, Brandt’s life mirrors Beethoven’s, until she realizes that she selfishly explained his work in a way that made sense to her, not to him. In the end, she loses her fear and, like the 33rd variation, ends on a content note.
Throughout the play, a pianist – in this case, our own very talented Angela Dwyer – plays the variations, each one more different from the last. 33 Variations appeals to everyone, but music lovers will get a lot out of it. By building a narrative around Beethoven’s music, the play brings it to an audience that wouldn’t normally listen.
I also like how the play makes its own “variations” on dramatic form. Scenes last a few minutes each, and time is always shifting. In one scene, two characters voice their thoughts aloud instead of using dialogue; in another, three different, yet similar conversations happen at the same time; in another, an X-ray machine does all the talking. In one of the best scenes, Beethoven dictates to the pianist, belting out key changes and dynamics in glee; that says more about the creative process than dialogue could.
Not many schools can do “mature” plays well, but I think our Performing Arts program did a really good job. In the cast I saw, I have to commend Sydney Bradley ’14, for carrying the show with grace; Steve Hoff ’14, for his impeccable accent; and Max Realyvasquez ’14 and Ella Presher ’14, for getting some of the play’s best one-liners. My only complaint: Beethoven is too important – and Jack Hayes ’14 is too good in the role – to keep offstage most of the time. That’s a minor complaint, though; after all, nobody’s perfect, not even Beethoven.
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