By: Moisés Kaufman
Directed by: Robert Kelley
Featuring: Rosina Reynolds, Howard Swain, Chad Deverman, Jennifer LeBlanc, Jackson Davis, Marie Shell, Michael Gene Sullivan and William Liberatore
When: October 3-28, 2012
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, California
Tickets: $23-$73 (savings available for students, educators, and seniors); call 650-463-1960 or visit theatreworks.org Read an interview with TheatreWorks Musical Director William Liberatore about "33 Variations."
Read John Orr's review of "33 Variations."
a Beethoven expert in "33 Variations" at TheatreWorks
"33 Variations" is about obsession, says Rosina Reynolds, who is appearing in the Moisés Kaufman play at TheatreWorks. "About fighting some disability you have to achieve that obsession."
"With Beethoven, it was completing the 33 variations, even as his deafness worsened" she explains. "For Katherine, it's that despite her debilitation, her illness, she has to understand why Beethoven wrote the variations."
We spoke in a phone call in late September, about a week before "33 Variations" opened in previews on October 3, 2012.
Reynolds is playing the modern musicologist Katherine Brandt, who is suffering from steadily worsening amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease) while she is attempting to understand the centuries-old mysteries of Beethoven's "33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120."
The great Howard Swain is onboard as Beethoven, as the Kaufman play wanders between his century and Brandt's century, as he composes music, and she investigates his life -- and her own.
And there are mysteries regarding the variations, which some consider to be the greatest piano music ever written. They may have begun (as so many things in the arts do) as a fund-raiser to help widows and orphans of the Napoleonic Wars. Money was certainly a factor. But, was ego - or obsession -- also a factor?
There's plenty of history around the project for real musicologists to consider. Beethoven took on the project rather late in life, and the question remains, why did he do all that composing based on a tune that he originally did not respect?
(My own guess: He was a very creative person, and that's what creative people do. Create.)
For Katherine Brandt, there is a race involved - for her to understand what happened with Beethoven before her ALS makes her work impossible. Before her inevitable death.
Also, Brandt is realizing, as Reynolds explains, "That she has made a mess of much of her everyday life, because of her work."
The play also includes her changing relationship with her grown daughter, Clara.
Is it candy to an actor, to play a person with ALS?
"Well, it's a challenge, and a challenge is always candy to an actor. It's a challenge to show the deterioration - to allow the audience to see it, but not to allow it to be so dominant that it becomes a distraction. It can't be the center of the show.
"Beethoven is fighting deafness, she is fighting her illness - there are wonderful parallels - but you don't want it to become a pity party."
Kaufman himself directed the play on Broadway in 2009, and Jane Fonda, at 71, played Brandt, earing a Tony nomination but not a win. Her performance got better reviews than did the play itself, however.
It may be a plus that Kaufman is not directing the TheatreWorks production. Instead, TheatreWorks founder and artistic director Robert Kelley is in charge, and Reynolds, in her first experience with TheatreWorks, is impressed.
"Kelley is involved in every aspect of the show," she says. "He has a very clear idea of what he wants. You know you are in strong, steady hands. It is a fast rehearsal schedule, but there is a great sense of security in that you can explore ideas in such strong hands."
Reynolds' love affair with theater began when she was in infant school in England.
"I grew up when school systems still had theater, art, all those wonderful things that are being slashed today," she says.
"I was the firebird. It was thrilling! A bright red dress! That was it."
After that, she started writing her own little plays and performing them in school.
"I was just a little ham," she says.
She went to drama school in England, then, in the 1970s, she says, she was taken by wanderlust.
"The boyfriend and I decided to go to the West Indies, working on boats. Just plain working."
She met her future husband in Panama, and came with him to San Diego, where she "started seriously applying myself in theater."
She worked at the Old Globe in San Diego, then was lured north by the siren call of Hollywood.
"I thought I had it made - I had my own parking slot. The show only lasted six weeks. I got my notice on Christmas Eve."
Still, she stayed in Los Angeles for five years. Did some big theater at the Ahmanson, appeared on "General Hospital" and other TV shows. But when she got pregnant, she moved back to San Diego - she didn't want to raise a child in L.A.
She's done a ton of theater in San Diego and in southern Orange County.
"Theater is my first love," she says.
The L.A. theater scene is its own weird creature.
"As much as I understand being showcased" - actors doing theater so Hollywood producers will see them working - "I didn't understand not getting paid," she said.
"I worked at the Ahmanson (one of the Los Angeles Music Center's big theaters). The big theaters in L.A. had the sense of theater. But the waiver theaters did not. It wasn't a theater scene."
In San Diego, Reynolds says, "there is a much more casual environment, but the actors are much more serious about their work. Even on the smaller contracts, you always feel it."
Now that her daughter, Katie Rose Reynolds, 27, is grown up and off in New York pursuing her own theatrical career, Reynolds is taking jobs outside of the San Diego area - which is why she is in this TheatreWorks production.
"She just performed in upstate New York, a gorgeous show, 'Mary's Wedding,'" Reynolds says of her daughter. "She did a wonderful job. I'm so proud of her."
Reynolds has been married for 35 years to Rojo Reynolds ("His nickname from the Army," she says). Rojo was a green beret, and is now a writer who also works in management.
Theater management, natch.