CAPITAL FRINGE FESTIVAL
Fringe's 'Hunchback Variations' puts Beethoven, Quasimodo in a room. Why not?
Some people skip the Fringe, remembering only the plays that were uncomfortable, terrible, a waste of time. They forget that the Fringe makes it possible for some truly funny, strange, esoteric shows to find an audience -- shows like "The Hunchback Variations," written by Mickle Maher, which continues at the Goethe-Institut through July 25. This play posits that Beethoven and Quasimodo are colleagues despite the obstacles of one of them being fictional, and that they are holding a panel discussion on an obscure problem they've been studying together.
The show, which features two very promising and very young actors, reads a bit like a classic Monty Python sketch. Beethoven (Aaron Bliden) and Quasimodo (Michael Saltzman) have joined forces to discover a mysterious sound described by Anton Chekhov in the stage directions of "The Cherry Orchard" -- "Suddenly, a distant sound is heard, coming as if out of the sky, like the sound of a string snapping, slowly and sadly dying away." The two men spend 40 minutes summarizing their findings on what the sound is not: a didgeridoo, Quasimodo's hands squelching together, a clay flute, the pages of a book.
It never occurs to us to ask "Who cares what the sound is?" much less "How can they hear the sounds if they're both deaf?" or "Why is Beethoven wearing Converse? He looks like Dr. Who." Their quest is more than academic; the thirst for knowledge and the need to escape their lives concentrate themselves into the search for the magic sound. Both actors are funny and committed, but it's the moments when we're not laughing that make the play more than an extended joke about the uselessness of academe.
-- Fiona Zublin