Saturday, March 8, 2014

33 Variations

On February 25th I went to the Winter Garden Theatre ballroom ( 160 West Plant Street, Winter Garden, Florida) for a Designer Run of the show, 33 Variations, a play written by Moises Kaufman. Stage Manager Jay Ferrence was the first person I met when I entered the ballroom. He informed me that the purple tape marked the front of the stage. Actress Becky Eck entered soon afterwards and introduced herself. She had played Jane in "Alice Lost in Wonderland" and she did an amazing job grounding that production. A designer run is a full run through of the show that gives the set designer an idea of where characters will be blocked during the production. Producer Beth Marshall and director Aradhana Tiwari sat behind a folding table to watch the show. Pianist Julian Bond will be performing Beethoven's 33 Variations live on stage in the final production, but for now a recording was used and Julian watched to see how the performers would be moving on the set.

This was a dress rehearsal so some actors were in period outfits from Beethoven's era and the rest of the cast was wearing modern clothing. Photographer Kristen Wheeler was shooting the show this night and she set up two lights to illuminate the actors. Beth warned her not to shoot the feet of some of the period costumed actors since they didn't have the right shoes yet.  During the show, Kristen had total access to the stage and she moved around the actors catching every emotional moment while also switching on and off lights to get the shots. It was an impressive ballet that didn't once phase the actors.

The plot examines the creative process of Beethoven's obsessive variations build from a rather plane and uninspired composition by Diabelli (Brett P. Carson). At the same time, the play follows musicologist Katherine Brandt (played by Peg O'Keef) who yearns to understand Beethoven's obsession. Brandt's relationship with her daughter (Becky Eck) is strained as she succumbs to a disabling Sclerosis and at the same time Beethoven (Chris Gibson) goes deaf. I had watched a number of performers audition for the part of Beethoven and I must say Chris is compelling as the anger driven compulsive composer.

 The musicologist traveled to Vienna to inspect Beethoven's original sketchbooks. By flipping through the pages she could see his every thought as he composed. She wondered if he might be mocking Diabelli's composition with his variations or perhaps he just wanted to one-up Bach who had 32 variations. Beethoven's loss of hearing may have actually helped him break new ground as he reinvented the very process of creation. Though cloaked in anger and bitterness, he found an amazing joy in the process even as the world grew silent. Minor composers like Diabelli could be satisfied and complacent with their insignificant contributions.

One moment in the rehearsal was absolute magic. I stopped sketching and was drawn in to the moment. Katherine Brandt disrobed as if in a doctors office. I imagined she was preparing for an MRI full body scan. She stood in a spotlight facing the audience with her arms out in a Christ like gesture. Beethoven stood behind her and they leaned back to back. His head leaned back on her shoulder and her head leaned back on his shoulder. She closed her eyes and shuddered with quick breaths of ecstasy. I noticed Becky Eck off stage began to cry, and my eyes welled up as well. There is a certain magic that happens when actors are no longer reciting lines, but they are emotionally invested in every moment.

Mark Your Calendars! The show runs from March 14-30, 2014
Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, Sundays at 2pm,
PLUS Monday, March 24 at 8pm- INDUSTRY NITE

 Tickets: $25 ($21 students/seniors) or

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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