33 Variations: Theatre Sarnia; January — February 2016
33 Variations — A Piece Which Illuminates Beethoven as Brilliantly as 'Amadeus' did Mozart
by Brian Hay
This review could actually begin and end with that word because everything about this production, from the minimal use of props to the material itself is exactly that. All the roles produce multi-faceted characters that come alive fully as their personalities unfold. Ralph D'Allesandro gave the piece many of its lightest moments with his portrayal of the frustrated publisher, 'Anton Diabelli'. Shane Davis gave the persona of 'Anton Schindler' the strange mixture of proud dignity and almost perverse humility that would have been required to remain devoted to an individual like Beethoven.
Andrea Hughes Coleman presented 'Dr. Gertie Ladenberger' as an individual whose stiff formality masked a deeply rooted sense of compassionate empathy that's underscored by her wry sense of humour. Her phenomenal placement of the deadpan wit her character possessed offset many of the play's darker moments. 'Claire Ross' articulated the voice of every child who's failed to live up to a parent's vision of them with her portrayal of Clara Brant and Darryl Heater was perfect as the nerdy but brilliant observer of the human condition, 'Mike Clark'. Together, and separately, they developed and alleviated the tensions that were written into the material.
The two principles (if that can exist in such an ensemble production), Audrey Hummelen and Trevor Morris served up definitive portraits of 'Beethoven' and 'Katherine Brant', the individual driven enough to need to understand not just his thinking, but the intimacy behind his artistic expressions and how it motivated him to work. Morris captured the monstrous ogre that Beethoven could be (and was) around those most devoted to him but also reached the tender vulnerability and idealistic drive that lay beneath his brutish exterior. Hummelen crafted a figure whose drive mirrored Beethoven's odyssey through Diabelli's composition only to have it become central as much to her life as to her research.
The set, designed by Jennifer Paqette, provided ample space for events from different eras to interact and coexist with only minimal use of props. Matt Leslie's lighting schemes kept viewers' eyes directed firmly at both the primary and secondary action that transpired while the projections established by Ian Alexander completed a backdrop that augmented the setting without intruding on it. Pianist Dan Sonier delivered beautiful renditions of excerpts from Beethoven's variations and Stage Manager Paul Richardson kept the changes flowing smoothly.
This play touches on a number of less than approachable subjects with remarkable objectivity. The ongoing conflict between practical reality and artistic vision is given an insightful view that brings understanding to the divide while illustrating the need each side has for the other. The gap that falls between people who love each other but chose different paths is illustrated marvellously without passing judgements of right or wrong. Man's mortality is seen with its sense of renewal. All of the subjects, as grave as they are, are explored with a sense that tragedy is invariably mirrored by joy that makes every harsh step worth the experience it brings. It's a look at life in all its glory but without rose coloured glasses.
Director Henri Canino has done a magnificent job of realizing the potential of a piece which literally does for Beethoven what Peter Shaffer's 'Amadeus' did for Mozart. Moises Kaufman's '33 Variations' gives a historically accurate account of the man that depicts his personal demons and slovenliness without excusing them while expressing the singularly euphoric vision that drove his artistry. It also captures his shrewdness and sense of humour, key facets of the man which are too often missed. Through this, the very human figure that emerges is one that is one that lends an even greater expression to his already timeless music. 'Variations' achieves this goal by following its own path and on its own terms.
All of it is realized brilliantly by Henri Canino and the fabulous crew around her.
This performance took place at the Imperial Theatre on January 29, 2016.
The site design, articles, artwork and some photos are my own. Promotional materials were supplied by Theatre Sarnia and are used with their consent.
Brian Hay © 2016