Festival Stage of Winston-Salem continues its third season of professional theatre with a production of Moisés Kaufman's new drama 33 Variations, presented at Hanesbrands Theatre (209 N. Spruce Street, Winston-Salem) from tonight, Feb. 1 to Feb. 24.
The production is part of a new and unprecedented partnership between Festival Stage and Wake Forest University's Department of Theatre and Dance. In addition to five professional actors from around the country, the cast includes a current Wake Forest University student majoring in theatre and one graduate of the department. The artistic and production staff includes several members of the Wake Forest faculty.
Kaufman (The Laramie Project; Gross Indecency: Three Trials of Oscar Wilde) first produced 33 Variations in 2007. Its 2009 Broadway production earned five Tony Award nominations, including for Best Play and for leading actress Jane Fonda. Festival Stage's production will be only the second of the play in North Carolina.
The music-filled psychological drama follows Dr. Katherine Brandt, a musicologist obsessed with uncovering a mystery behind Ludwig van Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. The action shifts in time from present-day Bonn, Germany, to 19th century Vienna where Beethoven is working. As Beethoven copes with the progressive loss of his hearing, Katherine fights a diagnosis of ALS (also known as Lou Gherig's disease). Paralleling Beethoven's own journey, Katherine struggles to complete her life's work and reconcile with her estranged daughter before her illness overtakes her. An onstage pianist plays the Variations live throughout the play, providing elegant counterpoint to the various characters' experiences. The play is suitable for teens and adults.
Steve Umberger directs the production. Umberger is Festival Stage's resident director, and previously directed Hatchetman (2012), The Exact Center of the Universe and Lunch at the Piccadilly (2011), and The Foreigner (2010).
All seven members of the cast are performing with Festival Stage for the first time. Alison Edwards and Warren Kelley lead the cast as Dr. Katherine Brandt and Ludwig van Beethoven, respectively. Edwards appeared in the national tour of (author)'s Wit, and in several productions at the New York Shakespeare Festival and Riverside Shakespeare Festival. She has performed regionally in California, Vermont, Missouri, Virginia and Oregon. Kelley has performed regionally in more than 200 productions, most recently Warren played Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird at Arrow Rock Lyceum. Off-Broadway, he starred as George Bernard Shaw in Engaging Shaw, which was named a New York Times Critics Pick.
Elkin, N.C., native Donna Davis plays Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger, a German musicologist who befriends Katherine and assists with her research. Davis is an award-winning actor whose Broadway credits include Filumena with Laurence Olivier. Daniel Harray plays Beethoven's friend Anton Schindler. Harray is a company member at Book-It Repertory Theatre in Seattle, and has performed extensively in Shakespearean and contemporary productions nation-wide. Mark Lazar plays Anton Diabelli, the Beethoven contemporary whose composition inspired Beethoven. Lazar is a former member of the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival company, and has been part of the company at People's Light & Theatre Co. (Philadelphia) for 14 years.
As part of the theatre's partnership with Wake Forest University, two theatre students join the cast in key roles. Amy Shackleford, a junior-year theatre major, plays Dr. Brandt's daughter Clara, with whom the ailing woman has a strained relationship. Jim French, a recent graduate, plays Mike, a nurse who pursues a relationship with Clara. Shackleford appeared in Wake Forest productions of Marisol, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and The House of Bernarda Alba. In addition to Wake Forest productions, French has worked with the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, Williamstown Theatre Festival and Paper Lantern Theatre Co. Wake Forest University Professor of Music Louis Goldstein, a member of the music faculty since 1979, will perform as the onstage pianist.