Variations on a Death Waltz
I'm not sure how cutely numerological Kaufman was trying to be, or to what end, but since he went to the trouble to package the play itself into 33 scenes, he must have been conscious that threes--triplets and triads--thrum throughout 33 Variations. The play dances between its two sets of characters--a triad composed of Beethoven and two of his contemporaries, mirrored by a present-day triad of Brandt and her comtemporaries. And another strange numerological echo occurs when Brandt's circle expands to four--around the time she makes a breakthrough in her search to discover why Beethoven's first variation switches from a swaying, danceable 3/4 waltz to a more solid, and stolid, 4/4 march.
Without those intellectual explorations, 33 Variations would be just another fatal-disease melodrama. It sure walks the rim of that canyon, at the bottom of which lie any number of made-for-TV movies where a beautiful woman has inexplicably tense and unhappy relationships with the perfectly nice people who surround her, only to resolve them in a snuffling deathbed scene. That happens here. Brandt has a disease; I won't give away what it is, though it is revealed early on. But the disease theme by itself isn't very strong or original.
I loved Vincent Mountain's set--an archive of high metal shelves neatly filled with all the weird boxes and receptacles that knowledge is stored in. Rhiannon Ragland reprises her excellent German accent from Boeing-Boeing a few years back, playing a stiff scholar who becomes a friend. Richard McWilliams makes a nimble, impish Beethoven. All in all, it's a good, smart production.