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Waukesha Civic Theatre's Love Letter to Beethoven in '33 Variations'

Mar. 14, 2017
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Going to the theater to laugh and cry and see love in action is great, but going to the theater to laugh, cry, love and learn something is even better. 33 Variations has a little bit of everything: a mother-daughter journey, romance and dead composers gesticulating wildly from behind bookcases. The story follows renowned scholar Katherine Brandt as she seeks the explanation and the story behind Ludwig van Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, a set composed in response to a waltz written by one of Beethoven’s less exceptional contemporaries, Antonio Diabelli (1781-1858).

<>While Brandt struggles with intellectual dilemmas rooted in the past, she also struggles with a highly physical present, in which her body is undergoing the ravages of amyotrophic laterals sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. As it states in the program, “ALS is a progressive disorder caused by the destruction of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, which results in the progressive loss of muscle control.” Beth Perry gives a skillful, heart-wrenching performance, depicting the brilliant woman’s physical deterioration with dignity and feeling.

The play encompasses such high-flown topics as the minutiae of historical music theory and the destruction of the body, while keeping room for humor and love. Ruth Arnell and Nicholas Callan Haubner provide moments of well-earned laughter as their characters progress from a shy romance to one of the most touching, practical examples of love.

A simple, effective set designed by Michael Talaska morphs from hospital room, to concert hall, to library, and elegant projections by Matt Hermes complete the picture. The actors are assisted through their story by Julie Johnson on piano, constantly present on an upstage platform, providing the music that ties stories of past and present together. 

For those who tend to find classical music boring, here is a play in which one finds the men who composed it chasing each other, hiding under tables and spitting soup. For classical music lovers, this play is like a piece of music coming to life with all the humor, sex and humanity that inspired it. 33 Variations is a not-to-be-missed element of Waukesha Civic Theatre’s current season.

Through March 26 at Waukesha Civic Theatre, 264 W. Main St., Waukesha. For tickets, call 262-547-0708 or visit WaukeshaCivicTheatre.org.

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