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A play, A Concert, An Obsession

Back in 1819, an enterprising music publisher, Anton Diabelli, had a brilliant promotional idea:  Write a simple waltz and ask all the famous composers of the day to write one variation on his theme. It was sure to be a hit. All the composers of the time agreed – except one – the Maestro, Ludwig Von Beethoven.  At first, Beethoven rejected Diabelli’s piece as ‘mundane,’ but some unknown creative muse soon seized the Maestro and he became obsessed with the ditty, ultimately writing 33 variations on Diabelli’s theme over a three-year period, and revolutionizing the piano form. But why?

That’s the question musicologist Dr. Katherine Brandt sets out to answer in Moises Kaufman’s moving play, 33 Variations, directed by Charlotte Tiencken for Drama Dock.  

Despite her being diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease f Katherine goes to Bonn to study Beethoven’s preserved musical sketches and determine what possessed the genius to devote much of his precious final years to a mediocre four-note waltz.

33 Variations will take you from Bonn today back to 18th century Vienna, paralleling Brandt’s obsession with Beethoven’s and weaving in sub plots of romance, friendship and greed. Beethoven’s piano variations haunt each scene.  In fact, the piano and pianist Linda Lee are major characters in the production.  

Two professional actors lead the cast --  Jeanne Dougherty as Katherine Brandt and Paul Shapiro as Beethoven.  Supporting the two with a thorny love story are Bonny Moss as Brandt’s daughter Clara and Marshall Murray as Mike, the nurse who helps to soften the mother-daughter connection in the face of mortality.

Michael Shook is Beethoven’s hustling secretary, Anton Schindler; and Stephen Floyd does a sparkling turn as publisher and composer Anton Diabelli.  Midge Duncan is persuasively stoic and sweet as German librarian Gertrude Ladenburger.

Moises Kaufman, author of The Laramie Project, exposes the power of creative obsession while Beethoven’s music thrills as an example of what obsession can produce.  

Kaufman’s creative insights and theatrical craftsmanship use the characters’ human frailties to vividly personify Beethoven’s music. As LA Theatre Critic, Craig  Schwartz wrote of the play, “Music lovers and theater lovers alike won’t be disappointed by this affecting piece.”

Drama Dock will stage just four performances of 33 Variations October 5 through October 8 at VCA’s Katherine White Hall.  Tickets are available at  Thursday is two-for-one night – buy one ticket at full price and get a second ticket free.  This is a play you’ll want to see twice.