When Moisés Kaufman gets to the point in his play 33 Variations, there's resonance, beauty and purpose in it. For nearly 2 ½hours we've been tracking parallel stories: one in the present as a terminally ill musicologist delves into the mystery of why Beethoven wrote 33 variations on a waltz theme by music publisher Anton Diabelli. And the other in the early 19th century as we watch Beethoven, his health and hearing failing him, tackle major late-career works (his Mass, his Ninth Symphony) all while succumbing to an obsession with the Diabelli variations. The two stories do fuse in an interesting way eventually as issues of time, mortality and attention to detail bridge past and present while offering a spark of inspiration and insight into the nature of obsession.
Kafuman's 2007 drama, produced by TheatreWorks and directed by Artistic Director Robert Kelley, takes its time getting to the point. Kelley's production is thoroughly enjoyable and features some sharp performances, but the play itself doesn't cut very deep, and the whole past/present cohabiting the stage thing doesn't really work. In the crudest of terms, the play is an uneasy mash-up of Wit and Amadeus.