First, let’s stipulate that Ruby Sketchley is simply amazing.
As the main character, Professor Katherine Brandt, in Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations, she is stubborn, insightful, brusque, loving, frustrated and, ultimately, full of joie de vivre. These are all things she has in common with Ludwig van Beethoven (Scott Divine), whose obsession with a second-rate waltz led to the composition of the incredible “33 Variations,” the piano work from which this play takes its title.
Second, let us note that Big Idea Theatre has put professional-level values into this community theater production, with an astounding (and deceptively simple) set design by Elizabeth Hadden-McGuire that covers a lot of ground: New York City; Bonn, Germany; Vienna, Austria in the early 19th century; and, yes, even a transatlantic airplane flight. Add to that an elevated platform for a live—and exceptionally good—classical pianist (Richanne Roope) to play the works under discussion and some top-notch lighting and sound design (Nic Candito and director Benjamin T. Ismail, respectively), and it’s a production that any professional troupe would be proud to claim.
Third, let’s point out that the depth of talent in the cast allows the major characters to shine by making their work seem effortless: Jamie Kale (Katherine’s daughter, Clare), Eric Craig (Clare’s boyfriend and Katherine’s nurse), Laura Kaya (Dr. Gertrude Ladenberger), Don Hayden (Schindler, Beethoven’s majordomo) and Paj Crank (Diabelli, a music publisher). They are, quite literally, note-perfect.
And fourth, let us take a moment to reflect on the way that time sets up eddies that function as musical variations on a theme, so that in our individual lives we find ourselves facing the same sets of struggles, losses, griefs and joys of past individual lives, but with some distinct changes that elevate both major themes and minor elements of our common humanity.
Space limits our variations on a theme of praise, but let us conclude this set by lauding the work of Ismail and the entire company at Big Idea, who have created something that is completely familiar and fresh at the very same moment.