While on tour with an artist I used to work with, I found myself crossing the stage at the Verona Arena right when the house lights went dark. Frozen for a moment, I looked out at the thousands unseen in the audience, the flickers of the lighters and the exit lights dotting the darkness, and I physically perceived the intimacy an artist must feel when performing. I quickly scuttled backstage but that impression has remained vivid in my memory to this day.
A live performance, be it music, dance or, above all, acting must be the most intimate relationship between an artist and his audience. While reading a book, another extremely close bond between reader and author, I am nonetheless left alone to interpret words, imagine characters; the act of reading is an intensely personal one. The same can be said for listening to music while slouching on the couch or driving alone. Even watching a movie, caught up in the embrace of a big screen, is still a personal interpretation of the work at hand.
On the other hand, while watching an actor on stage, or a musician performing, I am forced to believe in that artist’s portrayal of the character, I engage in an emotional relationship akin to listening to a friend talking. It’s about her words, her vision of her world, the one she wants me to believe in. I am in awe of the actor (or the musician or the dancer) who enters as public a space as a stage and gives of herself in a way that draws the unseen audience into her personal space.
For once, sitting in the audience, I become a blank canvas to be drawn upon, I am forced to enter somebody else’s world without possibility of rebuttal, it all washes upon me without being able to rewind or comment or re-read. The flood of emotions – like, dislike, disgust, appreciation – will just have to wait.
It’s not what I was thinking yesterday while watching Jane Fonda and Zach Grenier and the rest of the cast in “33 Variations”, a play by Moises Kaufman – they were all too riveting to allow room for thoughts. For two hours, the bond between actors, playwright and the audience was unshakeable, a testament to the validity of the work. Somehow I forgot to breathe until it was over and it was then the comments and thoughts came to the surface.
In a nutshell, the play focuses on the obsession of a musicologist (Jane Fonda), who is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, for Beethoven’s 33 Diabelli variations, how they came about and why the composer spent years working on them. Her difficult relationship with her daughter, her research at the Bonn’s Archives, having to confront her mortality are all themes woven with the past and Beethoven’s last years.
If you still haven’t seen it, “33 Variations” is playing at the Ahmanson Theatre until March 6.