In music, sets of “variations” have long enjoyed a special place in the repertoire. From the instructive simplicity of Mozart’s variations on the tune “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” (1785) to the epic challenges of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, this method of musical composition has yielded fascinating and enduring results. This Saturday, Lit Moon Theatre Company will present an ambitious play by Steven Dietz that transfers the variations concept to the stage. Taking as his point of departure a famous scene from the conclusion to Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, the playwright has written The Nina Variations, 43 short scenes that reimagine what might have happened between the young actress Nina Mikhailovna Zarechnaya and the equally young (and doomed) writer who loves her, Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplev.
For Lit Moon, there’s another layer of excitement added to the production, as it involves an extraordinary cast of 38 performers, 19 men and 19 women, all of whom have at one time or another performed with the company. Leave it to director John Blondell and his intrepid band of collaborators to come up with an idea for a reunion that’s also an entirely new production. Although many of the performers still live in the region, at least ten of them will be traveling from out of town to attend rehearsals and perform at Center Stage Theater on Saturday, January 5, at 4 p.m.
Speaking with Blondell by phone last week, I was struck by how completely this one-time-only project has captured his imagination. On the heels of several successful recent productions, including a memorable version of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard in 2014, the central idea of The Nina Variations appeals strongly to him because, as he said, “the stage is a place where you can have second chances.” The tragic ending that stunned and largely dismayed audiences when The Seagull premiered in 1896 has proven to be at once prophetic of much great 20th-century drama to come, and provocative to the imagination of Steven Dietz along with generations of theater goers. Blondell sees The Nina Variations as a way to revisit the dilemma posed by the original play, in which “every possible permutation of how need can be played out is insufficient.” Will that Chekhovian checkmate continue to hold in this new version? You’ll have to see The Nina Variations to find out. For tickets and information, visit centerstagetheater.org or call the box office at 963-0408.