Sunday, August 31, 2008

Review - Beethoven, As I Knew Him

Beethoven, As I Knew Him
text by and starring Hershey Felder
directed by Joel Zwick
Geffen Playhouse
through October 5
Hersehy Felder's artistry at the piano is a marvel. I could and would listen to him play a recital of Gershwin or Chopin or Beethoven for a couple of hours at any time, night or day. Beethoven, As I Knew Him, his newest play into which he interweaves Ludwig van Beethoven's cherished works, is at its best when Felder puts his fingers to the keyboard. It is when he speaks as Beethoven or Dr. Gerhard von Breuning, the young man whose father idolized the musician, that the piece becomes dull and humorless.
This is not due to Felder's lack of expertise as an actor - hardly, for he changes characters quite skillfully, and his accent is more than adequate. It is because the life of Beethoven was so sad that there needs to be some levity to make it click theatrically with the audience. And that never happens within the text of this play as written. Diehard fans of Beethoven will hang on every word and note, but for most, the truth is much too heavy a price to pay.
It is 1870 as the play opens and Dr. Breuning takes us back to his youth in Vienna as his father Stefan and he became involved in the life of the genius Beethoven. We learn of Beethoven's terrible childhood where his father hit him furiously on a regular basis and threw him into the cellar for no apparent reason. There was also the case of his two brothers Johan and Karl, and nephew Karl, who abused him financially and emotionally. He was alone with his art, the only real consolation, which became even more crucial as he gradually started to go totally deaf. When a man can no longer hear the sounds of this world, how can he compose the most beautiful sounds imaginable? Felder conjectures that Beethoven's mind had entered the realm of the spiritual world, that he heard the voice of God. The coda to the play is also quite fascinating. Breuning became a doctor and exhumed Beethoven's body to perform an autopsy and examination of the skull bones that would hopefully show scientifically how a completely deaf man could become a phenomenal musical genius. Nothing resolved, but interestingly enough, the bones eventually made their way to California, where they remain in someone's possession today.
All of this is interspersed with Beethoven's immaculate compositions including some of the concertos and sonatas from the three periods of his creative life - and herin lies the best part of the evening, especially as interpreted by the very fine musical savvy of Hershey Felder.
The projections on the screen behind the proceedings are especially effective like the one of the Countess, of whom Beethoven was so enamored: mobile within her portrait.

3.5 out of 5 stars
Recommended for the angelic music and for Felder's brilliant interpretation of it.
(Photo credit: Michael Lamont)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home