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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
33 Variations

Let us begin with the primary cause of things. Let us begin with how something came about. Why it came about in that particular way and became what it is.— Ludwig van Beethoven quoted by Dr. Katherine Brand
Jane Fonda could have been born to play Katherine in Moises Kaufman's 33 Variations which premiered on Broadfway two years ago (Broadway review) and is now at the Ahmanson, with the key players on board, and the same production design. Fonda plays an acerbic perfectionist who can't understand why daughter Clara (Samantha Mathis) isn't exactly like her, Brandt is a crisply elegant musicologist which means she doesn't compose or perform but rather studies and writes about music. You would think such a profession would make one humble but no, she's as haughty as they come.

The play, fascinating if overlong, explores a number of themes. There's the familiar parent/child conflict, the mystery of why Beethoven composed 33 variations of an undistinguished waltz by Anton Diabelli (Don Amerdolia), the humorous love story between Clara and Nurse Mike (Greg Keller) —and finally, the dialogue between Anton Schindler (Grant James Varjas) and his employer, the crusty ferocious brilliant Beethoven (Zach Grenier).

Beethoven is going deaf and Katherine is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease. The play needs all the help it can get from Beethoven's breathtaking and intricate piano music played, with her back to the audience so we can see her fingers, by Diane Walsh (who like Fonda, Grenier and others was in the Broadway production)..

If the play has one overriding theme, it's that such vicissitudes as deafness and dying are met by the love of music. "Hoping is the great curse, " Beethoven tells Katherine in the end when he has gone completely deaf. "I was allowed to create music that would not have been possible in the world of the hearing".

Kaufman, who also directs, has done particularly well with his characterizations this time out. In addition to Fonda's Brandt, he's caught the sly humor and determination of Beethoven as played by Zach Grenier; the jocularity and humbleness of Nurse Mike (Greg Keller); the upright desperation of Schindler (Grant James Varjas); the overweening ambition and deference to Beethoven of Diabelli (Don Amendolia). Clara and Katherine love each other in a desperate way although Clara job hops like a feckless grasshopper. And there's Gertie (Susan Kellermann), a character well played but with no purpose.

Derek McLane designed the sets shot with gold, a gleaming thread that boldly illuminates the play which unlike Kaufman's The Laramie Project and Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde is purely fiction.
33 Variations
Written and directed by Moises Kaufman
Cast: Dr. Katherine Brandt (Jane Fonda), Clara Brandt (Samantha Mathis), Nurse Mike (Greg Keller), Anton Diabelli (Don Amendolia), Anton Schindler (Grant James Varjas), Ludwig van Beethoven (Zach Grenier), Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger (Susan Kellermann), Pianist/Musical Director: Diane Walsh
Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Janice Pytel
Lighting Design: David Lander
Sound Design: Andre J. Pluess
Projection Design: Jeff Sugg
' Additional Costume Design: David C. Woolard
Hair & Wig Design: Charles LaPointe
Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig
Musicology Consultant: William Kinderman, Ph D
Associate Producer: Neel Keller
Stage Managers: Melissa M. Spengler, Susie Walsh
When: January 30-March 6, 2011.
Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Reservations: 213-972-7231.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on February 9.
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