PONCA CITY, Okla. — Students at Cowley College know Marlys Cervantes as the humanities department chair and creative writing instructor.

33 VariationsBut some might be surprised to learn Cervantes also is an accomplished actress who will appear in the upcoming Ponca Playhouse production of 33 Variations on Nov. 10-12 and Nov. 17-19 in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

Cervantes has been involved with the Ponca Playhouse since the mid-1980s and this is her 23rd role in its productions. 33 Variations is a drama about Beethoven by Moises Kaufman, directed by David Guinn.

Cervantes landed the role of Dr. Katherine Brandt, a musicologist who is studying a particular segment of Beethoven’s work. The drama moves between scenes in the 1800s and present day, when Cervantes’ character comes into play.

Late in his life, Ludwig van Beethoven took an unremarkable waltz theme written by Anton Diabelli and used it to create one of his greatest masterpieces for piano — the Diabelli Variations.

Two centuries later, Brandt, a musicologist in the early stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, struggles to discover why such a genius would spend so much energy working with mediocre source material. The parallels and contrasts between Brandt’s and Beethoven’s lives fuel this drama as it shifts between the past and present.

“The historical facts the drama is based on are really interesting. However, what drew me to audition for this role is that, at the same time she is researching, Katherine is dealing with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and it gets progressively worse throughout the show,” Cervantes said.

“My maternal grandmother, Ruby Weis, most likely suffered from this disease. Even though it had been discovered as a disease years earlier, it wasn’t diagnosed much at that time because there was — and still is — really no cure. I remember our family taking her to (the) Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to try to find help for her condition.

“To build the character, I’ve merged my time with two dear people from my life, my grandma and a dear friend who actually suffers from (multiple sclerosis), and moves between walker and wheelchair as she continues to live her life. I feel honored to represent women who continue to live as best as they can in spite of such debilitating diseases.”

Cervantes has had many challenging roles through the years. One of her most memorable was in “The Curious Savage,” because the production eventually was taken to contest, won the state competition and was performed at regionals.

“I love that challenge of creating a character and bringing her to life on stage,” Cervantes said.

33 Variations cast list

  • Marlys Cervantes — Katherine;
  • Larry King — Beethoven;
  • Allegra Sage — Clara;
  • Mark Thorton — Schindler;
  • Blake Brown — Mika;
  • Rebecca Marsh — Gertie;
  • John Maddox — Diabelli.

This information was provided by Cowley College Director of Institutional Communications and Public Relations Rama Peroo.