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A CurtainUp Review
The Hunchback Variations: A Chamber Opera

Suddenly a distant sound is heard, coming as if out of the sky, like the sound of a string snapping, slowly and sadly dying away.—Anton Chekhov (The Cherry Orchard)

The non-existent can never speak for itself.—Beethoven
The Hunchback Variations: A Chamber Oper
Larry Adams as Quasimodo
(Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
Ludwig van Beethoven, eternal musical genius, and woeful Quasimodo, former bell ringer, have worked together to replicate a sound described in Chekhovís stage instructions to The Cherry Orchard. The sound, a specific noise heard from far off, also evokes an emotion or mood. In hundreds of rehearsals the sound has proven impossible for them to produce. Beethoven hosts a drily droll and doleful panel discussion, where the incompatible partners report on their failed project, and are acutely, almost embarrassedly aware of the absurdity of their situation.

Although Beethoven has announced that they are both deaf, they can hear perfectly. Apparently being deaf is no impediment when youíre dead or fictional, or, in the case of Quasimodo, both.

The two disparate characters sit at a meeting table supplied with microphones and water. Two musicians, also on stage, play piano and cello. Quasimodo takes a few old instruments, contraptions, and toys from two beat up satchels. Over the course of the presentation he contributes several sounds for consideration. Each sound receives the same pronouncement from Beethoven: "That is not the sound." Much to the annoyance of Quasimodo, his co-investigator whose brain he declares can spit sparks, has contributed only one sound to their impossible task, and itís an unsuitable anachronistic one at that.

The unusual musical accompaniment provided by the highly skilled duo of Christopher Sargent ( piano) and Paul Ghica (cello) works independently and also merges tightly with the complementary voices of George Andrew Wolff (tenor) as Beethoven and Larry Adams (bass) as Quasimodo. The excellent actor/singers and musicians are from Chicagoís Theater Oobleck.

This closet opera rewards patience. Not so much a must-see for the traditional Mamma Mia crowd, The Hunchback Variations might be aimed at imaginative obsessive-compulsives who can appreciate its nuanced incremental attempts to express the inexpressible. The collaborators traverse the same terrain through 11 variations, adding nuance and slipping from energy to entropy and back. Quasimodo says he memorizes his sorrows. Beethoven fears that his achievements are perhaps eclipsed by the terrifying absence provided by his failure to produce the sound Chekhov describes. Yet their construct sheds little beams of light in on itself, seeming to move them through Nihilism to a sort of warm pre-existentialism. The music, often sonorous and at times quirkily disconnected, briefly becomes a haunting tune at the close, as Beethoven and Quasimodo reflect back and might be attempting to express what, other than failure, they have gained during their exploration. Quite a conjecture. In its way, itís sublime.

The Hunchback Variations: A Chamber Opera
Music by Mark Messing
Libretto by Mickle Maher, adapted from his play
Directed by [Theater Oobleck productions are developed by the performers and do not use directors]


Cast: Larry Adams, George Andrew Wolff
Musicians: Paul Ghica, Christopher Sargent
Lighting Design: Jesse Klug
Production Stage Manager: Cheryl D. Olszowka
59 E 59 Theaters, Theater B.
From 6/01/12; opening 6/10/12; closing 7/01/12J
80 minutes
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund at 6/05 press performance.
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