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Theater Mon Sep 17 2012

Timeline Theatre's 33 Variations at Stage 773


Though musicologist Dr. Katherine Brandt (Janet Ulrich Brooks) is on a deadline, her body keeps moving the goalposts, closer and closer to a permanent succumb; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease) accelerates through her, bringing the promise of a body that physically deteriorates while leaving her mind intact. Katherine has known what fate holds when she makes her way to the hospital for daughter Clara (Jessie Fisher) to the hospital for a "pre-flight" checkup with her nurse Michael (Ian Paul Custer), who despite his attraction to, and the protestations of Clara, gives Katherine the go-ahead to travel to Bonn for what is unspeakably agreed upon will be her final archeological find: the mystery behind Ludwig von Beethoven's (Terry Hamilton) masterful "33 Variations" from wealthy music publisher Anton Diabelli's (Michael Kingston) mediocre composition.

Diabelli challenges the noted composing world to a duel: take his mild mediocrity and transmogrify (it) to something different. The rules are simple, one variation per composer for which Diabelli will pay a lovely sum upon completion and publish. When Beethoven's secretary Anton Schindler (Matthew Krause) appears in Diabelli's salon with his master's proposal of creating "several" variations, but with money paid upfront, Diabelli is more than willing to negotiate; Beethoven has been "off the scene", with rumors of his drinking and debts accelerating and his health and hearing in rapid decline, Diabelli, more astute businessman than composer, knows the value of publishing Beethoven, including the holy grail, "The Ninth Symphony". Diabelli, coveting what may be Beethoven's final piece, makes the deal with Schindler.

Katherine arrival in Bonn delivers her to the university where she receives unprecedented access to Beethoven's archives. A few weeks in Bonn, and the goalposts of her ALS are re-setting, to the notice of Katherine's German counterpart Dr. Gertrude Landenburger (Juliet Hart), who reveals to Katherine that she knows what Katherine is facing, having lost her aunt to ALS.

Diabelli is amused but far from satiated when Schindler delivers word that the Beethoven has completed the first seven of the variations, along with the edict from Beethoven that there is more to come. Diabelli is intrigued by the "more to come" scenario, but nervous as the publishing date goes to a holding pattern, along with the potential profit from the collection. Diabelli argues but Beethoven via Schindler refuses to budge, and there is the demand for more money from Diabelli; after all, how can Beethoven continue with the "Variations" and the "Ninth Symphony" if he cannot pay his paper suppliers? Diabelli has no choice but to acquiesce, which is the same position that Clara finds herself with mother Katherine, whose condition worsens but she refuses to leave Bonn and head home for care and treatment. Clara and nurse/boyfriend Michael leave for Bonn to care for Katherine, and hopefully to convince what's left of her to return to New York with her "family".

Clara and Michael find Katherine losing her battle with ALS, but in a state of archeological and academic bliss, and more determined to stay in Bonn until "her end" to find the accurate reasons for Beethoven's 33 masterful variations of Diabelli's mediocrity. Was Beethoven motivated by money? That he himself was running out of physical health and earthly time? Or is it the intimate membership of club that Katherine shares with Beethoven? - keeping their minds intact to the bitter end, as both failing bodies mock their need for final accomplishment.

Clara has moved to Bonn to get closer to her mother, to make those final end-of-life decisions for Katherine; but Katherine has placed the delivery of her last wishes in the hands of her close friend Gertrude, and Clara finds herself wanting what she never really craved - a Claire Huxtable kind of "mom", if only to help Katherine through what surely will be a difficult process - the end of life. But Clara is remiss, as Katherine has "got this", and she now is completely vested in seeking her immortality through what will be her final thesis of Beethoven's motivations for creation and the translations of his variations; her immortality sealed by acting as Schindler's successor to his calling card: "Friend of Beethoven". To explain what for two-hundred years has been the inexplicable -what is the reason and meaning for 33? Why didn't he stop at six, seven, nine? And Katherine's body will not give away from her until she finds translation to the 33; what Beethoven was trying to tell the music world.

The finality of time periods merge until the stage, Katherine and Ludwig life's work and their lives accomplished, are done deals. They meet in the afterworld, and it's a meeting of admiration and appreciation for the both of them. Life does not go on, but passes on accomplishment, disappointments, and regrets. Ludwig von Beethoven passes on the immortality of music, Katherine passes on the immortality of creative understanding, Clara delivers her mother's final thesis to the world conference, and returns to New York with Michael to resume their lives together, and as individuals.

The performances are flawless; like the Variations, there is ebb, flow, misinterpretation, and crescendo to satisfaction. 33 Variations places two time periods, polarized by ideals, gender and expectation onstage and mixes them into a cacophony of emotion and need, satiated by great payoff. It is a theatrical Ode to Joy that Beethoven would appreciate.

Audience members will appreciate this grand mysterical composition, as well.

TimeLine Theatre Company opened its 16th season with the Chicago premiere of 33 Variations by Mois├ęs Kaufman, directed by Nick Bowling, August 30 - October 21 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.

Tickets are $32 (Wednesday - Friday) or $42 (Saturday & Sunday). Preview tickets are $22. Student discount is $10 off the regular ticket price with valid ID. Group rates for groups of 10 or more are available. Advance purchase is recommended as performances may sell out. To purchase tickets or for more information, call the Stage 773 Box Office at 773-327-5252 or buy online via

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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