Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010

One Man and One Woman: Milwaukee Chamber

Jacque Troy and C. Michael Wright in Duet For One

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Themes and motifs often present themselves over the course of any theatre season. What began with a young woman confronting a man in a factory break room (in Renaissance’s Blackbird) continued in with a man and a woman struggling against each other in the afterlife (Next Act’s Purgatorio) now continues with a woman confronting her own darkness with a man who wants to help her out. Milwaukee Chamber Theatre Artistic Director C. Michael Wright plays a somewhat heroic therapist working through the emotional difficulties of a concert violinist (Jacque Troy) in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Duet For One.

The story is a relatively straightforward one inspired in part by the life of Jacqueline Dupree. Troy plays Stephanie Abrahams—a concert violinist who has become stricken with Multiple Sclerosis. Her husband—a talented composer—wants her to seek help for the debilitating depression that sets-in as the neuromuscular disorder robs her of her ability to perform the music that has formed the entire basis for her identity. Wright plays Dr. Feldmann—a therapist and music lover who looks to explore her emotional problems.

It’s as simple as a little bit of insulation not being there . . . the body attacks the fatty cells that help conduct the electrochemical signals that rush around the human nervous system . . . the signals get lost and simple muscular control is lost. The kind of precision needed for a concert violinist can be breathtaking. (A few time in the past decade, I sat in the front row at the Marcus Center watching violinist Hillary Hahn perform . . . it was jaw-droppingly impressive watching the muscles in her arms articulate to make the violin sing . . . I can only imagine how spirit-crushing it would be for a violinist to lose that kind of precision . . .)

The conversation between therapist and wheelchair-bound violinist is interesting in spite of a rather simplistic Tom Kempinski script. It’s an intricate game of chess that plays out between proud patient and sympathetic therapist over the course of several sessions that occur onstage. We end up getting a profound look at the psyche of Troy’s character, but it wouldn’t be terribly interesting were it not for her heartfelt performance here. And though there is some intricacy to the tactics Dr. Feldmann uses to try to break through his patient’s defenses, they wouldn’t be terribly interesting were it not for a very well-articulated performance by Wright. As a play, there really isn’t much going on here. And it’s painfully obvious where it’s all going. Even the subtlety and intricacy in the script seems to be broadcast. It’s up to the actors to really give it life onstage. The beauty in Duet For One isn’t in the script. It’s what the script allows the two actors to bring to the stage.  

Wright is very calm and professional throughout the story—allowing subtle washes of emotion to overcome him at certain moments. There is actually very little in what Wright is given in the script—very few lines that allow him any chance at all to render a performance, but he does a remarkable job of forging an impression onstage. Troy puts together a similarly impressive performance. With the Doctor saying very little for much of the play, Troy’s performance here is a real marathon, and throughout the performance, we see that she’s remarkably up for the challenge. Her character has a kind of arrogance about her that Troy manages to make quite endearing. There’s a really enjoyable canter and pacing to her voice that makes the character interesting. Troy’s biggest success here, though, is her ability to make a very bristling, arrogant character seem endearing. AS she lashes out at her doctor.

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

 

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