The beauty around us

TimeLine’s 16th season is underway!

We are so excited to share this year’s collection of four plays with you—all brand new to Chicago—and to ignite new conversations about how these historical stories resonate with today’s social/political issues.

Three weeks ago, for the second year in a row, we launched our season outside our home on Wellington Avenue, this time at Stage 773 on Belmont. While there’s no place like home, producing at a second venue enables us to continue expanding our audience, and hopefully makes it easier for you to experience our work and to introduce TimeLine to others. We’ve benefited from an astonishing increase of more than 150% in our subscriber base over the last few years. Producing in two venues is a short-term solution for managing that growth while we plan for our long-term facility needs.

As we explore ways for TimeLine to broaden its reach and artistic scope, it is important to stress what is at the heart of all our considerations—fostering the intimacy and innovation that is critical to TimeLine’s work. How we connect with you is at the center of everything we do, regardless of venue, size or address. So, we hope you’ll share your ideas about how we can make your experience better and more enriching in the comments below.

Our venture beyond home with 33 Variations is also a fitting metaphor for the plays we’re exploring during our 2012-13 season, which push us into eras, cultures and genres somewhat foreign to TimeLine. As TimeLine’s Company Members looked to plan season 16, with more than 50 productions behind us, we were eager to find plays that took us to places we hadn’t been before. That same quest for discovery is at the heart of each story, with Americans abroad in search of understanding, fulfillment and a grasp of the unknown.

The journey this season will take us to an underground cell in Vietnam in the world premiere of Wasteland, as two soldiers seek connection in the face of the greatest of differences and obstacles.

We’ll also venture to Japan and back, during both the 1880s and present day, in the Chicago premiere of Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West, as the invention of the camera unlocks new worlds of intrigue and exploration.

Finally, we’ll go undercover in Afghanistan in the 1980s with the Chicago premiere of the spy thriller Blood and Gifts, exploring power struggles and under-the-table transactions that have shaped the international landscape for decades.

TimeLine Company Member Janet Ulrich Brooks as Dr. Katherine Brandt in “33 Variations,” with George Lepauw center stage accompanying the action on piano.

But we’ve started with Moisés Kaufman’s waltz through time in 33 Variations.

In 33 Variations, a modern-day musicologist travels to Germany to better understand her idol, Ludwig van Beethoven. Even with her health crumbling because of a debilitating battle with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), she immerses herself in the Beethoven archives. She is determined to understand why he composed 33 variations on a seemingly trivial piece of music while his own health, finances and state of mind deteriorated.

As he did with some of his other historically inspired plays, such as Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and The Laramie Project, Kaufman conducted copious research, going to the source in search of authenticity and understanding. And then he used that data as a launching pad to craft a play that blends critical analysis with surprising emotional impact.

As Beethoven’s music unfurls throughout the play’s 33 scenes, Kaufman shows us beauty where we often miss it: In the mundane. In the seemingly mediocre. In ourselves. And in those we love and take for granted.

Not unlike the variations themselves, Kaufman’s play sneaks up on you, packing an unexpected emotional punch. It urges us to reexamine that which we overlook, underestimate or undervalue, and reminds us of the fragility of life and death.

I’ve now experienced this play numerous times, first seeing it in 2009 and reading it many times over the last couple of years as we prepared to produce it. But a couple of months ago when I watched this cast’s first run-through in our rehearsal room, I was struck by so many things I’ve seen before, read before, known before, and then forgotten. Not necessarily about the play, but about the tedium of life and work and the toll it takes on being able to stop and pay attention to what is really around you.

Clara Brandt (Jessie Fisher, left) tends to her ill mother Dr. Katherine Brandt (Janet Ulrich Brooks) in “33 Variations.”

Watching the decline of a loved one’s health is the ultimate wake-up call and equalizer, reminding us of our own mortality and the pettiness that gets in the way of truly embracing what is most dear to us—the beauty that exists around us. That beauty is the heart of 33 Variations.

We’re delighted to take you on Moisés Kaufman’s journey, partnering with the International Beethoven Project (founded by pianist George Lepauw), under the always inspiring direction of my trusty colleague Nick Bowling, with a dynamic cast led by Janet Ulrich Brooks and Terry Hamilton.

Beyond 33 Variations, we hope you’ll join us for the entire extended exploration of 2012-13. I look forward to discussing all the places we will venture, and I thank you for being such a huge part of pushing TimeLine to new places.

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  1. Frances Brantley

    Beautiful essay, P.J. The play is touching and inspiring. It gets to the heart of being human, and you write about it very well.