Quasimodo sits behind a table alongside Ludwig van Beethoven. They're on a panel trying to work out a special sound effect in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. And both are deaf.
Greg Dean is the director/actor (Quasimodo) in Catastrophic Theatre's production of The Hunchback Variations, by Mickle Maher (The Strangerer and Spirits to Enforce) and he admits it took him a while to warm up to the script, which he read off and on over five years. "There was no hook."
But, he says, he began to see how great it could be (and reviews of other productions of this have been generally laudatory).
"I grew to love it. You have two men, one fictional, one historical. Both dead, both deaf, discussing their failure to create a sound effect."
Jeff Miller plays Beethoven and Dean notes that he's known Miller ever since they competed against each other in the one-act play contest in high school. The entire running time of the play is 45 minutes and it consists of 11 different segments, between which there are blackouts. So audience members may think it's over rather quickly, but it's not.
Dean, who's also doing the sets and props for this production ("I'm getting ready to prime the Quasimodo mask."), says they are still working on the music that's played throughout. Yes there's music the audience hears that Quasimodo and Beethoven supposedly can't. That's until the music stops at one point and Beethoven notices. Dean says he hasn't quite made a final decision as to whether Beethoven can hear something or "is it just an external manifestation of what's going on in their heads? I haven't really decided. I kind of like the idea that he can hear the music. Who plays music at panel discussions?"
Dean says a certain suspension of disbelief is called for. "We do have two dead men in the present day." He says both characters "are funny and ridiculous and poignant. It's one of those lovely pieces that manages to walk that line."
The Hunchback Variations runs April 10 through May 2. 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at Catastrophic Theatre, 1119 East Freeway. For information, call 713-522-2723 or visit catastrophictheatre.com. Pay what you can.