‘33 Variations’ feels like it is full of at least 33 cliches

Maureen Keiller, Dakota Shepard and Kelby T. Akin star in "33 Variations" at the Lyric.

“33 Variations,” Moises Kaufman’s play dissecting Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations,”  suffers under the weight of the playwright’s effort to create a compelling tale of human drama complete with madcap genius, mystery and intrigue. While threads of it are quite good, Kaufman often relies on predictable plot lines and schmaltzy dialogue to fuel the purely fictional parts of the story.

At times during the Lyric Stage Company’s current production, the melodrama teeters on the brink of histrionic but is kept grounded by the stellar performance of Maureen Keiller (Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger). Not only is her German scientist the lone voice of reason, but Keiller’s timing is impeccable and embodiment complete.

Paula Plum nails the arrogance and impatience of haughty academic Dr. Katherine Brandt, the musicologist obsessing over Beethoven’s work. Unfortunately, the deathbed scenes and emotional resolve with her daughter are so cliche that even the excellent Plum can’t keep them from feeling overwrought.   

Kelby T. Akin adds some believability to the story with his charming portrayal of Katherine’s nurse, Mike Clark, while Victor Shopov is delightful as Beethoven’s lackey. 

Another problem with this production is the blocking. If you happen to be seated in either of the Lyric’s two side sections, you spend a great deal of time looking at the actor’s backs. Though distracting, it’s worse when pivotal moments are heard rather than seen.

With the exception of Keiller and Plum, the cast completely ignores these sections until the curtain call. Of course, Keiller and Plum are the main reasons to see this show.

‘33 Variations’
Through Feb. 2
Lyric Stage
140 Clarendon St., Boston
$25-$58, 617-585-5678
www.lyricstage.com


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