33 Variations

by Moisés Kaufman
directed by Moisés Kaufman
originally produced at Arena Stage, Washington D.C..
August 24,2007 through September 30, 2007

About the Premiere Production:

A co-production between Tectonic Theater Project and Arena Stage, the play examines Beethoven's life and creative process as he obsessively composes 33 variations known as the "Diabelli Variations," late in his life. Struggling to uncover the source of his fixation is Katherine, a modern-day musicologist. Kaufman's D.C. directorial debut weaves performances of Beethoven's compositions, played live by acclaimed pianist Diane Walsh, and original projection design by Jeffrey Sugg into the action of the play.
The journey to this premiere began four years ago when Kaufman learned of Anton Diabelli from a clerk at the now-defunct Tower Records in New York City. A 19th century music publisher who composed a waltz and commissioned 50 of Vienna's greatest composers to write a variation on it, Diabelli's intention was to publish the 50 variations in one book that was sure to bring great wealth to his publishing company. Beethoven was one of the composers commissioned, but he declared the waltz 'insignificant' and rejected the commission. Later, for reasons that remain a mystery, Beethoven became fixated on the waltz and created not one but 33 different variations on it, eventually composing what many pianists consider to be the most important work in the history of the variation form.
The story stayed with Kaufman. 'It immediately captured my imagination,' he said. 'Why would someone of Beethoven's stature choose such a trivial melody and spend four years on it? Although this play is based on the birth of the 'Diabelli Variations', I have chosen to explore the story from a fictional perspective through a contemporary and historical lens. Thus, this play is not a reconstruction of a historical event; rather, it's a series of variations on a moment in one life, and its implications for the past and future.'
Kaufman explores the creation of the 'Diabelli Variations' through the character of Katherine Brandt, a respected modern-day Beethoven scholar. Against her daughter Clara's objections, Katherine travels to Beethoven's archives in Bonn, Germany in order to gain access to his creative process, humor and profound humanity. As Kaufman's play begins to decipher the clues Beethoven left behind, Katherine discovers a greater revelation not only about herself but also about his enduring, transformative work.

Artistic Statement

From Artistic Director Molly Smith:
I don't think it is very often that a playwright takes on the inner fire of the creative process, as Moisés does here with Beethoven. He is one of the true iconic stage directors working in America today and both Arena Stage and D.C. audiences are fortunate to be part of the premiere of this significant theater project.

Creative Team:

Director:Moisés Kaufman
Set Design:Derek Mclane
Lighting Design:David Lander
Sound Design:Andre Pluess
Costume Design:Janice Pytel
Dramaturg:Mark Bly
Choreographer:Peter Anastos
Projection Design: Jeffrey Sugg
Wig Design by Chuck LaPointe
Cast:Don Amendolia - Anton Diabelli
Greg Keller - Mike Clark
Susan Kellermann - Gertie Ladenburger
Graeme Malcolm - Ludwig Van Beethoven
Laura Odeh - Clara Brandt
Mary Beth Peil - Katherine Brandt
Erik Steele - Anton Schindler
Diane Walsh - Pianist

Subsequent Productions:

The BLUEBARN Theatre
Omaha, NE
May 8, 2014 - June 8, 2014

Southern Rep
New Orleans, LA
September 11, 2013 - September 29, 2013

ZACH Theatre
Austin, TX
January 23, 2013 - February 17, 2013

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Boston, MA
January 4, 2013 - February 2, 2013

Palo Alto, CA
October 3, 2013 - October 28, 2012

TimeLine Theatre Company
Chicago, IL
August 24, 2012 - October 21, 2012

OpenStage Theatre & Company
Fort Collins, CO
September 9, 2011 - October 16, 2011

Capital Repertory Theatre
Albany, NY
September 10, 2010 - October 3, 2010

On Broadway
Eugene O'Neill Theatre
March 9 ,2009 - May 21, 2009

La Jolla Playhouse
San Diego, CA
April 8, 2008 - May 4, 2008


Official site for the Broadway production

2009 Tony Award:
Best Scenic Design of a Play: Derek McLane
Drama Desk Nominations:
Outstanding actress: Jane Fonda
Outstanding Set Design of a Play: Derek McLane
Outstanding Sound Design: André J. Pluess

“We’re half way through the second act. I have a 15 minute break between my scenes and I can’t resist telling you how much the audience seems to be loving the play. There are so many laughs, laughs I never expected. I don’t know if this is just because it’s the first public preview and everyone’s rooting for us but it’s a full house—they can’t all be friends and allies. I am astonished. And there have been no mistakes so far.”
- Jane Fonda’s blog
, written in the middle of the show’s first public performance, February 9, 2009.

In the press:

About the Broadway Show:
“Kaufman spent three years researching the play, including taking a trip to Bonn, Germany, where Beethoven’s papers are archived.

“This is perhaps the most personal play I’ve ever written,” he said. ’I was just fascinated.’”
- NorthJersey.com

“’I am very excited about being in Moisés new play,’ [Jane] Fonda said in a statement. ’I can’t wait to get back on stage with him in this role that I understand so well.’”
- Broadway.com

“What did it take to get Jane Fonda, 71, to return to the stage? She told Playbill.com’s Robert Simonson, ’The play….I have never read a play like this, structurally, stylistically. It’s very hard to read it and take off the page exactly what it was. But I knew that there was something about this that was really different, that was calling to me.’”
- Playbill.com

At Arena Stage

“The language itself is musical, filled with resonance and depth.”
- Talkin’ Broadway

“There’s something sweet and egalitarian about the brazenly bad dancing that brings this rather fine evening of theater to an elegiac close.”
- DCist

“Lovers of classical music and highbrow curiosities will find themselves drawn into this dexterous exploration of musical inspiration and obsession.”
- Washington Times

At La Jolla Playhouse

“Kaufman’s latest work, 33 Variations,displays some of his trademark thoroughness but melds it with fictional elements to create something that, for him, is entirely new. In a poignant West Coast debut at the La Jolla Playhouse, Kaufman demonstrates a deft new skill, intertwining historical fact with a related fictional story line.”
- OC Register

“Moises Kaufman’s obsession with Ludwig van Beethoven’s obsession has produced a superior piece of stage art, the play 33 Variations, both written and directed by Kaufman and now on view at the La Jolla Playhouse.”
-San Diego.com

“Kaufman is a writer and director with a composer’s feel for the music that great dialogue, acting and stagecraft can make together. That virtuoso touch yields a lyrical and affecting work that jumps between (and sometimes fuses) time zones nearly two centuries apart and two sets of characters who are worlds apart.”
- San Diego Union-Tribune

Steinberg Award

On March 29, 2008, the American Theater Critics’ Association named Moises Kaufman as the winner of ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award for 33 Variations. The award, which includes a $25,000 cash prize, was created in 1977 to honor outstanding new plays produced at a regional theater. It is funded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.

Kaufman’s script was selected from among a pool of 28 scripts submitted by ACTA members. He joins a list of over 30 recipients since the award’s inception, including August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Donald Margulies, Lee Blessing, and Lynn Nottage. Other nominees this year included Edgerton Award winning playwrights Sarah Ruhl and Rebecca Gilman. More information is available from the American Theatre Critics Association.