Moisés Kaufman's "33 Variations," now playing at the Actors Co-op's David Schall Theatre, glows with the kind of radiant intellectualism that might seem showy if not for its resonant humanity.
The central character is a brilliant academic, Katherine Brandt (Nan McNamara), who is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. As she slides into decline, Katherine travels to Bonn to research why Beethoven devoted so many years to his famous Diabelli Variations — the subject of her monograph and the operative metaphor behind Kaufman's play.
As the action segues back and forth between the early 19th century and the present, we witness both Beethoven (Bruce Ladd) and Katherine as they race against mortality to complete the tasks that have obsessed them.
Obsessions don't leave much room for personal connection, and that's certainly the case with Katherine and her daughter, Clara (Greyson Chadwick). Wrongfully dismissed as "mediocre" by her meticulous mother, Clara joins Katherine in Bonn, hoping to win the approval that may never come.
McNamara, Ladd and Chadwick are all superb. The balance of the ensemble — including Brandon Parrish as Clara's new admirer, Stephen Rockwell as the composer of the waltz that so obsesses Beethoven, John Allee as Beethoven's faithful acolyte and Treva Tegtmeier as a German scholar who belatedly befriends the failing Katherine — are equals in technique and craft.
In 2009, "Variations" earned Tony nominations for Kaufman and star Jane Fonda, who subsequently reprised the role of Katherine at the Ahmanson in L.A. The production at Actors Co-op is an opportunity for an intimate reassessment of the play.
Director Thomas James O'Leary exploits every inch of the small playing area in his authoritative staging. The design elements — Andrew Schmedake's lighting, David B. Marling's sound, Vicki Conrad's costumes and, most particularly, Nicholas Acciani's scenic and projection design — set an impressive standard. Dylan Price provides the live piano music that enlivens the action and makes the variations accessible to even the most musically untutored in the audience, who may not exit the theater humming the score but will certainly go away with a new perspective on the fulminations of genius.
Where: Actors Co-op David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, ends March 19; additional performance 2:30 p.m. March 18
Info: (323) 462-8460. www.ActorsCo-op.org
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
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