Monday, September 21, 2009

33 Variations

So, the honors program kids made a theater trip to see 33 Variations at the Ensemble Theater of Cincinnati last night. All I can say is, it was absolutely, without doubt the best play we've seen there yet (which isn't saying much really, but it was good.. unless you ask Daniel). To begin with, it premiered at the Ensemble Theater on September second, and made no other regional "appearances" because they were the only ones given the rights to perform it. Otherwise, the only other people to see it would have been in New York, watching Jane Fonda play the lead.

Anyway, the play is about Katherine, An American musicologist and Beethoven specialist who decides to take a trip to Bonn, Germany, even though she's just been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Her daughter, having just found out about the diagnosis that Katherine has known about for months, is distraught and makes the trip to Bonn to bring her mother back. Simultaneously, the story of Beethoven and his writing of 33 variations on Diabelli's waltz is being told. Katherine is so obsessed with the genesis of the variations that she can't quite see them for what they are, just as she can't quite connect with her daughter, Clara (which, funny enough, is the name of the lead ballerina in Tchaikovsky's, Nutcracker, but I digress...). And then to complicate matters, Clara starts dating Mike, a nurse who's been caring for her mother (can you say awkward?).

Though Dr. Marlowe said that the main theme of the play was that of legacy -and she must be right, because she got that information from the playwright- I felt like it was focused more on something else. Personally, I felt that the main theme was in finding beauty in places where it is commonly overlooked. Katherine always felt frustrated with her daughter, annoyed that she couldn't stick with a career, seeing her potential and wanting to harness it, to make her daughter into someone "great." In the end, however, Katherine realizes that all her criticisms were for naught, because, for one, her daughter isn't going to change, but mostly because her daughter was perfect and beautiful already. For all her perceived faults and inconsistencies, Clara was actually the finished artwork, and it just took Katherine a little while to finally realize that her daughter had always been a masterpiece. On a slightly less touching level, Beethoven realized the same thing in Diabelli's "mediocre" waltz. When Katherine realizes, with the help of Clara, that the waltz wasn't a concert waltz, but rather a beer hall waltz, she also comes to see that she's been judging it by the wrong standards the whole time -much as she has her daughter. Beethoven's variations, she hypothesizes, were not to poke fun a Diabelli's waltz, but rather to celebrate it. But, apparently, all this is wrong because the plays really all about legacy and not about "finding beauty in a grain of sand." The playwright said so.
Anyway, Beethoven might have been wrong, but I give this play five John Cage mushrooms! The music was great, the dialogue intriguing, the actors simply wonderful and the set was quite impressive (my favorite part!).

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