This article was originally written for another website in September 2015, but it ended up going unpublished. I decided to post it here instead.
I arrived at Whitespace Manila with a guilty conscience for two reasons: The first being that I had inadvertently given away Kaye’s ticket, and the second being I knew next to nothing about the local theater scene. While Kaye was practically squealing with excitement at the thought of watching Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino and Teroy Guzman on stage, I was running a quick Google search on them in a panicked attempt to educate my ignorant self.
I often claim to love theater, but the last time I watched a local production with an all-Filipino cast was back in my college days, when my professor, Missy Maramara, required us to watch Fluid and Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal.
Watching 33 Variations was my first time watching a local production since then, and to quote Kaye: “Masterclass lang ang peg mo sa first experience.” And now I’m pretty sure what she said was true.
I walked into the venue not knowing what to expect beyond what I found online. I knew that the play was about the parallels between the lives of Katherine Brandt, a musicologist, and the object of her life’s work: Ludwig van Beethoven. I knew that the title comes from Beethoven’s 33 variations of Anton Diabelli’s waltz. Beyond that, I was clueless. Not having expectations, however, often makes the experience of a narrative purer and more meaningful.
33 Variations is a play about love, loss, passion, obsession, and the unstoppable flow of time. Katherine Brandt is obsessed with her research as a music scholar, just as much as how Beethoven was obsessed with his compositions. Despite their deteriorating health, their obsession and passion for their work keeps driving them forward, just as their friends and loved ones are swept along in their wake.
With such a small cast of characters, heartfelt performances from each actor, and an intimate stage set-up, I lost myself in the play, feeling every moment of joy, anger, and agony as though I was there in each character’s shoes. Sitting there in the front row, I had to fight back the urge to reach out to help Katherine Brandt (Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino), as she struggled to pull gloves onto her shaking hands. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Maestro Beethoven (Teroy Guzman) as he closed his eyes and surrendered himself to his music, musical terms continuously flowing from his lips like a mad litany. I felt my heart skip a few beats while watching the love blossom between Clara Brandt (Ina Fabregas) and Mike Clark (Franco Chan) despite all the hardships they had to face. I laughed at the wit and humor Gertrude Ladenburger (Roselyn Perez), Anton Diabelli (Paolo O’Hara), and Anton Schindler (Rem Zamora) brought onto the stage, but also felt their pain profoundly during some of the more dramatic moments on-stage. And there, always in the background but never forgotten, was pianist and musical director Ejay Yatco, amplifying every emotion with Beethoven’s music.
I could even see the reactions of my fellow audience members from across the stage, and everyone was as rapt as I was. Coincidentally, Missy was sitting almost directly across me, and I could see her raising a handkerchief to her cheek as she wept.
Being a newcomer to local theater,I have nothing to compare Red Turnip Theater’s 33 Variations to, and lack the knowledge and experience to provide a more professional review. What I do have is a new standard to compare local productions to, and a renewed interest in theater that will hopefully blossom into a new passion, or maybe even a life-long obsession.