Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 16, 2013

33 Variations

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through October 27, 2013
by Shera Cohen

The Majestic open its 17th season with a quirky but interesting, funny yet somber, contemporary yet period piece (1800's), "33 Variations." The play focuses on Dr. Katherine Brandt, a present day musicologist, and Ludwig Van Beethoven. While both have lives devoted to music, "Variations" focuses on the relationship and affect of the two on each other. The obsession for perfection, particularly under crucial deadlines, is the crux of two intertwining stories.

It is nearly impossible for anyone entering the Majestic's stage to not "wow" at Greg Trochlil's set. The floor to ceiling library is exquisite. Also serving as numerous smaller sites (usually with the aid of a single prop), the set easily creates 21st and 19th century settings simultaneously. The trappings are more than a landscape, but an essential piece of the stories, equal in importance as the actors and dialogue.

Barbara McEwen, a Majestic "regular," portrays her character (Katherine) with intelligence, strength, and stubbornness. McEwen's Katherine is feisty, determined, in spite of an illness. [Not a spoiler alert.] This is McEwen's top performance to date. Buzz Roddy, a Pioneer Valley regular (New Century Theatre), exudes every adjective associated with the genius of Beethoven. Roddy buffers the bravado with his character's struggle to create as he bears the weight of his own malady. This, too, is Roddy's best character portrayal seen in years. While the two characters are rarely on stage together, and never speak to each other, the duo develop an important kinship especially at the conclusion of Act I.

Director Maxwell Williams has attended to the minutia -- making character movements, set pieces, and overhead projections purposeful, although some scenes and/or parts could have been snipped. The play is long enough to look at one's watch a few times.

Huge kudos to the sound crew, especially in creating Beethoven's oncoming deafness. And, speaking of sound, pianist Larry Picard (who never leaves the stage) is a one-man extremely talented "orchestra."

Equity and non-Equity actors nicely step into roles of both centuries: Darcie Champagne, James Emery, Jaris Hanson, and Jonathan Saulmon. It is difficult to know if Benjamin Cole (as a music producer) is a skilled actor or not. His booming voice envelops every word of dialogue and inordinately and negatively affects those on stage with him. Tone down the volume control or the director should pull the plug.

Words of note: it helps if audience members are knowledgeable about Beethoven. A short read in Wikipedia is suggested before attending the play. This homework assignment will ultimately make the play more enjoyable.