American actor Jane Fonda returns to Broadway
After more than 45 years, actor heads back to the stage to explore
how creativity can blossom late in life
Ed Pilkington in New York
9 February 2009
The last time Jane Fonda took the stage on Broadway, John F Kennedy
was in the White House, Bob Dylan had just released his second album
and the first James Bond film, Dr No, was in American cinemas.
That was in June 1963, when she finished a run of Eugene O'Neill's
Strange Interlude. More than 45 years later, she makes her Broadway
comeback tonight in 33 Variations, a play, fittingly, that explores
the exceptional creativity of artists late in life.
Critics itching to find out whether Fonda, aged 71, has hung on to
her thespian magic will have to bide their time through a month of
previews before the official opening night on March 9. Fonda herself,
chronicling her return to Broadway in a blog, predicts that she will
find tonight's opening preview as surreal as it was being on stage in
1963, aged 25.
She says she is approaching the coming four and a half months of
shows as an adventure. "That's how I choose to think of it. I could
be real scared. I mean, eight shows a week after 45 years! But I am
choosing to think of it as a challenge."
Her relationship with Broadway began in 1960 in There Was a Little
Girl. Later that year she played in Invitation to a March, written
and directed by Arthur Laurents who is currently directing a Broadway
revival of West Side Story that opens next month.
In 1963 she was given the lead role in the comedy The Fun Couple,
which proved such a flop it closed after only a day.
After four Broadway shows in quick succession, she then followed in
her father Henry's footsteps into the movies, with big hits in Cat
Ballou in 1965 and the quintessential 60s sex movie, Barbarella,
three years later.
She went on to take two best actress Oscars (Klute 1971, Coming Home
1978), as well as embarking on a highly-publicised engagement with
radical politics as a prominent anti-Vietnam war campaigner, and as
she did so Broadway faded into the wings where it has remained until today.
Shortly after she announced her return to the stage, a friend of
hers, a little her senior, told Fonda that at their age they were
supposed to be retired, not looking for new adventures. "I don't
agree," she replied, pointing out that she was writing a new book,
provisionally called The Third Act: Entering Prime Time.
It was her passionate belief in the potential of later life that drew
her to 33 Variations. Fonda was researching a chapter for her book on
Beethoven. Just when she was delving into the exceptional flurry of
creativity towards the end of the composer's life, the script of
Moises Kaufman's play arrived on her desk.
It too looks at Beethoven's late period, specifically his rush to
compose 33 variations on a Waltz by Diabelli at a time when he was
becoming progressively deaf. Fonda plays Katherine Brandt, a
musicologist who travels to the composer's birthplace, Bonn in
Germany, in an attempt to uncover the truth behind the variations.
Brandt herself is in a race against her own physical deterioration -
she has a terminal illness that progressively takes hold.
"Obsession, passion. These are things I love in life, the fact that
people can grow old and become sick and yet their passions remained
undimmed," Fonda writes in her blog. "Some of the greatest artistic
works and achievements have been done by people late in life - Monet,
Cezanne, Degas, Matisse, Beethoven."
So in art, so in life. Fonda now has her chance to show that her
passion, her skills, are undiminished. The verdict of the critics awaits.
Jane Fonda in Broadway play for first time since '63
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Monday evening, for the first time in more than 45 years, Atlanta
actress Jane Fonda will take the Broadway stage.
In the first performance of a month of scheduled previews, Fonda will
play the starring role in "33 Variations," Moisés Kaufman's
award-winning play about a musicologist obsessed with understanding
Beethoven's own obsession with a particular piece of music.
The play, at the Eugene O'Neill Theater, is scheduled to open March 9
and run through May 24.
Fonda, 70, was last on Broadway in a 1963 revival of O'Neill's
"Strange Interlude," though she has performed onstage in "The Vagina
Monologues" here and in New York in recent years.
She was just 22 when she made her Broadway debut in 1960 in "There
Was a Little Girl," for which she earned a Tony Award nomination for
best featured actress.
The actress has not been available for comment in recent weeks and
hasn't spoken much about her Broadway return beyond a statement she
made when she was cast in November: "I am very excited about being in
Moisés' new play. I can't wait to get back on stage with him in this
role that I understand so well. It's been 40-some years!"
Here's a quick look at the play, Fonda's co-stars and an earlier
Broadway effort she'd probably like to forget.
• The play: "33 Variations" gets its name from Beethoven's "33
Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli." Premiered at Arena Stage in
Washington, it received the 2008 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American
Theatre Critics Association New Play Award. Playwright and director
Kaufman is best-known for directing the Tony Award- and Pulitzer
Prize-winning play "I Am My Own Wife."
• The plot: In 33 scenes that toggle between the present and the
1820s, musicologist Katherine Brandt travels to Beethoven's
birthplace in Bonn, Germany, to uncover the mystery surrounding the
creation of the composer's 33 variations on Diabelli. Complicating
matters, beyond a troubled relationship with her daughter, Katherine
is slowly succumbing to ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), and her
capacities to walk and speak are fading.
• The cast: Along with Fonda, the "33 Variations" cast includes
Samantha Mathis (of "Grey's Anatomy") and Colin Hanks (recently seen
on "Mad Men"), as well as Zach Grenier, Don Amendolia, Susan
Kellermann, Erik Steele and Diane Walsh. (Trivia: In the most recent
production in La Jolla, Calif., Katherine was played by Jayne
Atkinson, recently the national security adviser on TV's "24.")
• Capsule reviews (of the La Jolla Playhouse production): "A deft
meditation on obsession, creativity and the fervent urge to find a
kind of immortality." (San Diego Union-Tribune)
"Divinely staged if occasionally earthbound … a beautifully wrought
Lifetime special for philharmonic regulars." (Los Angeles Times)
"While sometimes self-conscious … a moving and mesmerizing evening of
theater." (Orange County Register)
• Break a leg: The last time Fonda had the leading role in a Broadway
play was in "The Fun Couple," a romantic comedy that opened on Oct.
26, 1962. It closed the next day.