Beethoven, As I Knew Him

Beethoven, As I Knew Him
Geffen Playhouse



When Hershey Felder’s solo event George Gershwin Alone played at the Geffen Playhouse last summer, it was the second of the actor/scholar/pianist’s “Composer Sonata Trilogy in Three Movements” to play there, proving the imaginative mind of Felder and the accommodating theatrical visionaries running the Playhouse these days are a perfect match. From the size of the recently remodeled venue, to the world-class acoustical attributes put in place at that time, to the space’s unique mix of warm intimacy combined with a properly academic air of artistic austerity, one can only hope there are more famous composers whose lives this guy wants to research and present to us all in intimate detail.

The Gershwin evening, which began right here in LA in 1999 and toured throughout the world after that original lengthy stay here at the 99-seat Tiffany on Sunset, had spawned that second part of the trilogy to debut at the Geffen, Monsieur Chopin, and seeing Felder the actor master playing both of these two great musical whiz kids, as well as using his scholarly skills to explain their lives and techniques while periodically exhibiting his own virtuoso performance skills at the piano, was a truly remarkable experience for anyone lucky enough to experience it.

Beautifully staged and directed by his longtime collaborator Joel Zwick, Felder’s concluding piece to his Composer Sonata puzzle has come home to the Geffen stage once again and the newest effort, Beethoven, As I Knew Him, further solidifies the creator’s unique place in the history of theatrical risk taking. Unlike Gershwin Alone, however, Felder’s exploration into the resounding tocks that made ol’ Ludwig Von tick only covers the last two unhappy years of his life—and then as noted in Aus dem Schwarzspanierhaus, the 1870 memoir by Dr. Gerhard Von Breuning, son of the composer’s lifelong best friend, who had the distinct privilege of musical mentorship by Beethoven himself as a boy of 12, a relationship that proved as profound as one might expect.


Also unlike the other two pieces, Felder here takes on the persona of Beethoven only peripherally, spending more time assuming the character of Von Breuning as he meets and bonds with the miserably crotchety old master already in the throes of the horrifying deafness which so cruelly tormented and haunted his later years. Still, Felder manages to brilliantly reveal so much about the elusive man and how Beethoven somehow continued to create his complicated, emotionally rich enduring musical scores despite being able to hear them himself, all the while noting that the creation of great art is, if nothing else, one of the most mysterious parts of our fragile existences on this planet.

Luckily, as with his other pieces, Felder ends the performance by bringing his audience into the process with him, eruditely and succinctly answering questions from the house he insists are to have no boundaries, thus making the evening even more special as he confirms why he was once ensconced as a scholar in residence at Harvard’s School of Music. That section alone is more than worth the price of admission to Beethoven, As I Knew Him, but than again, if you’re there, you’ve already been well satiated by Hershey Felder’s artistry both as an actor and, even more spectacularly, as a knockout classical musician able to bring the sense of a gigantic concert hall to the Geffen stage as he performs the most magnificent and emotionally affecting compositions of one of the most important musical geniuses of all time.

Beethoven, As I Knew Him plays through Sept. 28 at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave, Westwood; for tickets, call 310.208.5454. For more information, visit

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing.