A Tony Award-winning script paired with an impeccable cast can turn any community theater performance into theatre gold. And that’s what Available Light Theatre has struck with their local premiere of Moisés Kaufman’s “33 Variations.”
Kaufman’s (who also wrote and directed “The Laramie Project”) 2009 Broadway hit offers an emotionally poignant peak into a successful academic’s deteriorating health as she tries to finish her life’s work, a last effort to discover the origin of Beethoven’s reasonings behind his most famous piece, “33 Variations.” Kaufman pairs the storyline with the story of Ludwig’s own deteriorating health as he created the popular renditions of the Anton Diabelli waltz from which the variation’s derived. Both stories intertwine and practically play out in unison, forming an intricate waltz all its own.
Director Elani Papaleonardos shows genius casting abilities for putting together the stellar ensemble. All of the actors fit their respective characters like a glove, a feat within itself when putting on any local production.
Josie Merkle has a slow start but quickly builds into the stern exterior of Dr. Katherine Brandt, a renowned musicologist who has spent much of her life ignoring her now-adult daughter (Acacia Duncan) for the pursuit of academic respectability. Duncan easily slips into Clara Brandt’s frustration and concern for her mother, hoping to cram a lifetime of connections into a few final months.
Matt Hermiz is a stunning Ludwig van Beethoven. He perfectly captures the thin line between genius and insanity as the iconic composer tries to create a masterpiece as his health and hearing fail him.
The supporting players are also at their best. Mike Clark as Clara’s affectionately nerdy nurse boyfriend Adam Humphrey; Emily Bach as Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger, Katherine’s Russian colleague and loyal friend to the bitter end; Nate Roderick as Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s servant and friend who has become known throughout history for misrepresenting some of facts in the composer’s story; and David Tull as the hilariously campy publisher and fellow composer Anton Diabelli, who couldn’t stop mentioning the fact that his work was the inspiration behind the variations.
Michelle Whited’s modern and period costumes were phenomenally apropos. Papaleonardos’ staging was equally impressive, a raised piano sits behind a backdrop on a stage modestly set with an oak table an a few chairs. This allows for some amazing pacing as the characters from each era weave amongst each other. Dave McMahon beautifully sails though the “33 Variations” throughout, the music becoming a cast member itself as it interacts with the action on stage. The stage is also often lit buy well-timed video projections off the main backdrop.
In a word this show was an Available Light masterpiece. I haven’t seen a top-to-bottom hit from AVLT since their masterful 2010 deconstruction of Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice,” and it is indeed a pleasure no AVLT fan or local fan of theater should miss. My only major criticism is that the show was scheduled for a short run of only two weekends, one of which has already passed. So if you haven’t seen it, you’d better act fast.
Moisés Kaufman’s “33 Variations” by Available Light Theatre has only three shows left (Jan. 19, 20 & 21), showing in the Van Fleet Theatre of the Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Ave., Columbus. Tickets are on the theater’s popular Pay What You Want system. Visit their “33 Variations” Web site for more information