Monday, May 25, 2009

A Glimpse of Greatness

My sweetheart and I tend to stay in the city over Memorial Day Weekend. We've always enjoyed the quiet feeling that pervades the city when everyone rushes out to go to the beach. And it's been such a beautiful weekend! So we've spent a great deal of it, strolling about.

This morning, on our way to the gym, we passed the Eugene O'Neill Theatre where 33 Variations had played, and I was sad to see the show had closed. Apparently, it was a limited run, and boy, am I glad I got to see it last weekend before it closed!

Seeing that closing notice posted on the theatre doors reminded me what a fleeting treasure theatrical performances are. With film, we're able to view and review something a million times until we're spent on it. But with theatre, it's often a one-shot deal, and yet there is something so visceral about live theatre, so tangible. It is such a connected experience between the performers and the audience, and that experience is often kept alive in our memories.

I'm still amazed by folks I've met who've seen a show I've done and give such generous accounts of their experience. A casting director I met recently saw The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun that I did a few years ago, and an actress I met at Actors Equity saw me in Johnny On A Spot, which I did last Fall, and both ladies were full of very kind compliments.

I love how people are moved by theatre! And sure, I remember my first big theatrical experience. It was Beatlemania. My parents took me to see it in LA when I was a kid, and I was absolutely mesmerized. I cried and cried when it was over. And interestingly enough, with 33 Variations, that too had me sobbing at the end. It was such a wonderful production!

Jane Fonda played a musicologist, searching for clues as to why Beethoven (played with great ferocity by Zach Grenier) wrote 33 Variations on a simple waltz by Anton Diabelli (played by the delightful Don Amendolia). Some of these variations are considered to be Beethoven's last pieces of work, and the playwright/director Moises Kaufman wove together this story of a woman coming to terms with her illness of Lou Gehrig's disease while also juggling a distant relationship with her daughter (the tenacious Samantha Manthis), who unexpectedly find's love with her mother's nurse (Colin Hanks' Broadway debut, and boy was he wonderful). Intertwined with this modern tale is a fictional account of Beethoven's last years, coming to terms with his deafness and the new discoveries it gave him as a composer. "And, even though they're separated by 200 years, these two people share an obsession that might, even just for a moment, make time stand still."

Indeed it did! There was a moment where Jane Fonda's character, Katherine, is having x-rays and you can see the pain this woman is going through, yet she leans back, and there is Beethoven, her solace and her inspiration to keep going.

The characters come together in the final scene, meeting in Katherine's mind, and it was such incredible work! The acting, the writing, the directing, the scenic and lighting design and the music (beautifully played by pianist Diane Walsh)! The cast was rounded out by the fabulous Susan Kellermann, whom I loved in Queen Latifah's film, Last Holiday, and Erik Steele as Beethoven's right hand man, Anton Schnidler.

The whole production reminded why I love theatre so much and why I want to do work like this, to work with incredible artists who tell stories of such depth and beauty. It was first-rate, and I'm glad I caught it because it was gone. It will definitely live in my memory forever.

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