Duet For One

| April 13, 2000

DUET FOR ONE, Genesius Theatre Company, at North Lakeside Cultural Center. British playwright Tom Kempinski's two-person drama is loosely based on cellist Jacqueline du Pre's struggle with multiple sclerosis, which destroyed her music and therefore her life. Instead of focusing on the musician's anguished relationship with her sister, like the movie Hilary and Jackie, this 1980 work imagines a volatile "duet" between Stephanie Abrahams, a famous violinist married to a prominent composer, and Dr. Alfred Feldmann, a psychoanalyst who helps her cope with the loss of physical and mental control.

Stephanie alternates between denial and hostility, hope and helplessness, entertaining thoughts of suicide and raging over the philistine father who snuffed out the talent of her long-dead mother. When the soft-spoken doctor urges her to remain useful or suggests that her husband may not be up to the challenge of her illness, Stephanie taunts him for his pose of impassive objectivity. At the end we're left to wonder whether Stephanie, cut off from the "magic" that sustained her, has any reason to survive.

Duet for One must be irresistible to actors if only for its sharp contrast between the achingly sincere analyst and the self-protective patient. Ann Marie Shanahan's staging--the debut of a worthy ensemble--benefits from its intimate parlor setting. Scott Mullins depicts Feldmann with an Olympian detachment that finally yields to something like involvement. And Cameron Feagin as wheelchair-bound Stephanie delivers the full-blooded pain of a proud soul trapped in a self-destructing body.

--Lawrence Bommer

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