by Shirley Lorraine
Beautiful music and intriguing story onstage in Ojai
An exploration of Ludwig van Beethoven’s laborious journey in penning variations to an otherwise mediocre waltz by Anton Diabelli is now on stage in 33 Variations at the Ojai Theatre Center Playhouse.
The commission of variations to his work by more well-known composers was in hopes of elevating Diabelli’s own work to greatness. Things didn’t quite work out that way as Beethoven, who originally turned down the commission, became enamored by the work and ultimately devoted a great deal of his own life to it.
Ably directed by Richard Camp, the audience is guided through a fascinating trip through time, motivation and determination as well as learning how Beethoven struggled with his own muses and ultimately his loss of hearing while still composing great works.
The play by Moises Kaufman highlights the focused research by musicologist Dr. Katherine Brandt (Tracey Williams Sutton) whose life ambition is to unravel the mysteries behind the genius’ work. To delve deeply into the writings, she must spend time in Bonn, Germany pouring through archives of Beethoven’s notations.
Archivist Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger (Lynn Van Emmerik) slowly warms to Dr. Brandt, ultimately providing assistance, friendship and emotional support for the project and for the researcher. Dr. Ladenburger is at first disapproving of the “intruder” into her beloved archives, but gradually warms to a fully likeable character as their bond grows.
Adding to the Doctor’s plight is her declining health due to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) as well as a strained relationship with her daughter Clara (Andra Belknap). Clara reluctantly falls for her mother’s nurse (Devin D. Dornbos) and together they learn to cope with the many difficulties that arise.
Brandt’s journey takes place in the present, while explanatory actions are also staged in the 1800’s to show interactions between Beethoven (Cecil Sutton) and Diabelli (Sean Love Mason) that may have taken place. Beethoven’s loyal henchman Anton Schindler (R. Shayne Bourbon) provides additional insights into the creative mastermind behind the music.
Underscored throughout with Beethoven’s compositions played by highly talented pianist Aaron Embry, the result is simply mesmerizing. The evening would have been exemplary with just the concert. However, the play fills in the blanks we didn’t know were there and adds depth on many levels to make the music even more enjoyable.
Ms. Williams Sutton’s portrayal of the obsessed and brilliant Dr. Brandt is stellar. She easily brings forth the singlemindedness of Dr. Brandt as well as her inner strength in the face of myriad challenges.
As the musical genius Beethoven, felt to be the greatest composer of all time (quite a role to fill!), Cecil Sutton brings forth the eccentricities of creativity with passion.
In the role of Anton Diabelli, a composer of lesser renown, Sean Love Mason gives a glance into the type of man he may have been.
A simple yet highly effective set designed by Steve Mitchell as well as well thought out period costuming by Mary Crane and Tracey Sutton adds just the right shell for the action.
Ojai Art Center Theater, 113 S. Montgomery Street, (805) 640-8797, www.OjaiACT.org
General admission $20, Seniors &Art Center Members $18. Everyone 25 and under (must show I.D.) gets in for only $10. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m., Sundays 2:00 p.m. through July 15.