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Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Touching ‘Duet for One’

Theater Review

Feb. 25, 2010
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Duet for One, which opened last weekend at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (MCT), is based in part on the life of renowned cellist Jacqueline du Pré, whose successful career was cut short when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 28. She lived another 14 years, watching from a wheelchair as the career of her husband, pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, reached greater heights.

Although Tom Kempinski’s play is now 30 years old, Duet for One still resonates with its messages of loss, faith and the need for human connection, as seen in this production under the thoughtful direction of Paul Mason Barnes.

Within a series of therapy sessions, well-known violinist Stephanie Abrahams (at the request of her equally famous composer husband) meets with Dr. Alfred Feldman to explore how the “bloody creeping paralysis” of MS is affecting her psyche. But an emotional fortress has been built around her emotions, and attempts to infiltrate prove difficult.

“No wonder people don’t like people like you,” Abrahams says to the doctor.

Given the intimate nature of this two-character play, everything rests on the strength of the actors playing patient and physician. MCT Producing Artistic Director C. Michael Wright returns to the stage after a four-year absence as Feldman, and he handles his professional restraint and deference deftly as the anger within his patient builds over time. Then it’s his turn to angrily “rescue” his patient when it comes time for the stricken musician to understand that “the purpose of life is life itself… the struggle to live.”

As Abrahams, veteran local performer Jacque Troy has perfected the moves of an MS patient, confident in moving her motorized wheelchair, dragging and lifting her lifeless limbs, while maintaining the ever-thinning veneer of calm and control. We see the gradual decline in Abrahams physically and emotionally; the payoff of Troy’s hard work is the audience’s reward.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Duet for One runs through March 14 at the Broadway Theatre Center.


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