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Moises Kaufman,

Moises Kaufman,


Playwright Moises Kaufman takes a pause from writing about gay martyrs and casts Jane Fonda in a drama about Beethoven and musical obsession -- 33 Variations .

When you think Moises Kaufman, you think Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde or The Laramie Project -- intense pieces about gay martyrs. Not Beethoven. But his latest play, 33 Variations , concerns an ailing musicologist, Dr. Katherine Brandt (Jane Fonda), obsessed with deaf Ludwig's obsession: a banal waltz he tirelessly transformed into a musical monument known as "The Diabelli Variations." Opening March 9 on Broadway, Kaufman's play is more than a music lesson. caught up with Kaufman before one of the show's previews. Why Beethoven?Moises Kaufman: What's interesting is how and why he became obsessed with this mediocre trifle, even while he had bigger projects on the burner. It's the question of inspiration, and why is it that we get attracted to things that we don't understand. At the core of the play is obsession and desire. It never occurred to me until now, but there's a way that queer people understand this better than anybody else.

I'm nothing without obsession and desire. Beethoven was obsessed with his handsome, ungrateful nephew. Do you think that maybeaEUR|. No.

Never mind. By the way, do you have a musical background? I played a little piano while growing up in Venezuela.

How much research did you do for the play? William Kinderman, the leading expert on "The Diabelli Variations," was my mentor through all of this. I also hobnobbed with other Beethoven scholars, and made the journey that Katherine makes in the play. I went to Bonn, Germany [Beethoven's hometown], and spent time with Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger in the archives looking at his sketches.

Those sketches are legendary, graphic pictures of perfectionism run amuck. What did you find? I'm in love with those sketches. I've spent hours and hours with them. Just the pictorial quality of them is beautiful.

You even have projections of them on the set throughout the evening -- certainly a first for Broadway! Well, they capture the emotions of Beethoven as he was composing: Sometimes they're turbulent, sometimes very clean. You can see what passages he labored over and what passages came easily. It shows his compositional process. They are another character in the play.

Did you have any epiphanies about the variations, how they came about? Well, I'm not a musicologist, but a musicologist of "The Diabelli Variations." An expert. The hypothesis that Katherine comes up with at the end of the play -- that Beethoven's variations are a way of slowing down time -- is an original musicological hypothesis.

Your very own? Yes. Kinderman says it's valid. By the way, you don't have to know music to enjoy this play.

You probably turn people on to music, press their curiosity button. The recording by Diane Walsh, who plays snippets of the piece during the show, is selling like crazy each night.

How was working with Jane Fonda? Fabulous. She's fantastic and a genius. She's incredibly kind and incredibly generous.

Did she know much about Beethoven before taking on this role? No. But she's now writing a book about the process of aging and she's focusing on Beethoven.

Which reminds me: Both Ludwig and Katherine are in various states of decay while pursuing their obsessions -- your parallel seems deliberate. I wanted to explore what happens to you when you're left with very little, and how that focuses or un-focuses you.

What do you want people to come away with? To see that the nature of desire and the nature of obsession are very mysterious. But perhaps more important, the possibility of glimpsing into another human being's obsession may prove to be the source of great truth.

Were you obsessed writing this play? I spent five years of my life doing it. What do you think?

I bet you're writing a screenplay now. As we speak.

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