“33 Variations” at Arts West

This many-layered play takes us back to the 19th Century while rooting us sturdily in the 21 Century. It’s about obsessions—Beethoven’s with a rather mediocre waltz by Anton Diabelli and that of a dying musicologist determined to discover why Beethoven devoted so much of his dwindling energy in the last years of his life to this seemingly unimportant task.

Yet there are other threads woven through this piece, just as there are so many threads woven into the Beethoven Variations. How do we explain commitment, whether it’s the commitment of a scholar to uncover a mystery of the past, or the commitment of a composer to discover every permutation possible with the same few notes?

Playwright Moisés Kaufman also wants us to consider the commitments that human beings have to one another—parent to child, child to parent, genius to subordinate and vise versa. And as we grapple with these concepts, he’s seen to it that we listen to the diverse and beautiful variations that Beethoven created. In this production Katie Koch plays them in commanding style.

Director Christopher Zinovitch’s cast and crew have captured in real life all the passion and longing present in Beethoven’s 33 variations. The entire cast works well as an ensemble. Standouts include Jody McCoy as the ailing but determined musicologist, her daughter Clara, (Allison Standley) who captures the frustrations of a child helpless before her parent’s determination, and Mark Tyler Miller, the nurse who becomes Clara’s lover and effectively mixes compassion with passion.

The play, nominated in 2009 for a Tony in New York, is cleverly interlaced with counterpoints past and present. It’s powerful as an intellectual exploration and equally powerful as a love story. There’s much to commend it.

Through May 25, at Arts West, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle; (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org)

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