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33 Variations: Calculated Gracefulness

33 Variations: Calculated Gracefulness

Teroy Guzman and Ejay Yatco

It is easy to be awed by the things that we see, but it is equally necessary to salute the things that our watchful eyes do not reach. In Red Turnip’s latest theater offering 33 Variations, the discipline required and integrated in the production is highly evident. It is cerebral, clever, and calculated. And yet the rough edges of its controlled intentions are smoothened by the apparent gracefulness in its execution.

Penned by Moises Kaufman, 33 Variations chronicle the stories of Ludwig van Beethoven (Teroy Guzman) as he writes an impressive set of variations based on a pedestrian waltz by Anton Diabelli (Paolo O’ Hara) and of present-day musicologist Katherine Brandt (Shamaine Buencamino) as she explores and studies the motivation behind Beethoven’s obsession over a mediocre musical piece. The parallelisms are apparent. Beethoven and Brandt personify the convergence of passion and alienation in their obsession. They are also both ill and dying. With Beethoven’s music at its centerpiece, the two narrative strands flow coherently. And the cost of the genius and/or madness in their pursuits is apparent.

Rosalyn Perez and Shamaine Buencamino

The material’s high concept nature is evident and as such, balancing its inherent intellectual aspect vis-à-vis its emotional weight requires careful and clever considerations. This is where director Jenny Jamora succeeds. The manner by which the theatrical elements came together is smart and it gives justice to the material without having to sacrifice its depth — especially since if one were to think about it, 33 Variations can easily be intimidating to watch. After all, classical music is foreign to almost everyone nowadays. But what Jamora achieves is a strong push for the appreciation for the classic and a telling of a poignant tale wrapped together in a deeply moving presentation.

Rem Zamora and Paolo O'Hara

Much credit must be given to the technical creativity in the production. The set design by Ed Lacson Jr. is intimate and inclusive. The platform is transparent and the walls where Beethoven’s pieces are plastered in the four walls of the room. It eliminates the supposed distance between the audience and the spectacle; it draws everyone in to fully embrace what’s transpiring in front of them. The lighting design of the ever-reliable John Batalla paints a picture of hope, melancholy, despair and clarity successfully that it doesn’t only emphasize specific aspects of the presentation, but also adds a layer of credibility and credence to it. Of course, Raven Ong’s costume design — especially for the Beethoven’s storyline — is impeccable. Together, what they come up is a haunting scenery that best encapsulates the claustrophobia inherent in obsession.

Moreover, the performances of the cast are remarkable. Shamaine Buencamino’s controlled and consistent portrayal of a musicologist on a verge of an important discovery and a mother losing grip of the important is simply moving. Meanwhile, Teroy Guzman’s performance is rich in gravitas as he showcases Beethoven’s madness, desperation and relentlessness. Paolo O’ Hara and Roselyn Perez provide strong support to the leads as Anton Diabelli and Gertrude Ladenburger, respectively. Rem Zamora loses himself in the character of Beethoven’s trusted assistant (or servant) Anton Schindler and renders a supposedly ornamental character with depth and air of humanity. His showcase of Schindler’s sense of loyalty and self-sacrifice is simply captivating and moving. Meanwhile, Ina Fabregas (as Katherine’s daughter Clara) and Franco Chan (as Katherine’s nurse and Clara’s lover Mike Clark) visibly struggle but certainly hold their own in an ensemble of highly experienced cast. Another person on stage (who deserves a paragraph of his own) is Ejay Yatco. He plays Beethoven’s variations on a baby grand live, which is also something present in the original Broadway production. But there’s a clever touch when he isn’t just a passive pianist but also a reflection of Beethoven’s psyche and consciousness, which is highly noteworthy. Ultimately, they breathe life to an outstanding material in a graceful manner despite the need for extreme precision in choreography, blocking and timing (especially at the end of the first act).

Ina Fabregas and Franco Chan

At this point, it is necessary to understand and remember that while it is easy to watch and be blown away by what we see, it is equally important to remember the inner workings that make the production possible. It is easy to ruin 33 Variations if left in unguided and inexperienced hands. It could have easily been a disastrous production. But what’s clear with Red Turnip’s presentation is that much thought is injected into the process; the mixture of the intellectual and the artistic is balanced and ultimately astounding. And it all works out well. It doesn’t feel self-indulgent and the passion is evident. And in the end, we are gifted with a show that we should be thankful to watch – not because of its mere existence, but more importantly because of the amazing manner by which it is delivered.

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