I just saw 33 Variations with Jane Fonda at the Eugene O'Neill Theater tonight. I thought the performances by Ms. Fonda and the entire cast were terrific.
33 Variations is a very interesting play written and directed by Moises Kaufman, who won an Obie Award for his direction in the Tony Award-winning show a few years back called I am my own Wife. He also wrote and directed Gross Indecency: The 3 Trials of Oscar Wilde and The Laramie Project.
33 Variations takes us from present day New York City to Bonn, Germany and as far back to 19th Century Austria. The story is about a modern-day musicologist (played by Ms. Fonda) and her obsession with wanting to understand why Ludwig van Beethoven had his own obsession with writing 33 variations on the music publisher Anton Diabelli's seemingly "small and trivial" waltz of 1819. Diabelli needed help with his own work and asked several of the best composers for their help with completing the music so he could then turn around and sell it. "Diabelli's Variations" were considered the most important work in variation form.
Beethoven was completely obsessed with trying to finish Diabelli's sheet music and took 4 years to create the 33 variations. Katherine Brandt (Ms. Fonda), is suffering from an end of life illness and is desperately trying to find out why Beethoven worked on the variations for so long considering the work was uninteresting. She travels from New York City to Bonn, Germany. While there she studies the archives of Beethoven's work to try and figure out why Beethoven was obsessed with Diabelli's work. The plays action also takes us way back to 19th Century Austria where we get to witness what probably went on between Diabelli and Beethoven.
Katherine's only daughter is concerned for her mom's declining health and follows her to Germany to help. Although they've never really had a close relationship, we get to witness significant changes between them. For a story that seems complicated, Moises Kaufman manages to have the play flow quite smoothly as we travel back and forth from one century to another.
Joining Ms. Fonda on stage are a cast of great actors including Colin Hanks (son of actor Tom Hanks) who is making his Broadway debut in 33 Variations. He has played in shows in London's West End and appeared in HBO's Band of Brothers and AMC's Mad Men. Quite a talent on the Broadway stage I might add. Samantha Mathis plays his girlfriend Clara and Katherine's daughter. Samantha has appeared on Broadway and appeared in many film and television series. Rounding out the talented cast are Zach Grenier playing Ludwig van Beethoven, Don Amendola, playing Anton Diabelli, Susan Kellerman, playing Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger, Erik Steele as Anton Schindler and Diane Walsh, who is the pianist and musical director of the show.
33 Variations is a solid play from beginning to end. Originally I wanted to see Jane Fonda on a Broadway stage. It's been 46 years since she was here last in a show called Strange Interlude. She was absolutely brilliant tonight as was the entire cast. A true ensemble production. 33 Variations is a limited engagement and plays only through May 24, 2009.
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