Play: Duet for One
Group: Soundstage Too
Venue: Marble Stage Theater, 426 Crestwood Court ArtSpace
Dates: Show concluded
Story: Stephanie has carved for herself a brilliant career as a professional violinist. She says she inherited her mother’s musical genes, and has demonstrated a marked artistic ability since childhood. Her talent has propelled her to acclaim and recognition as well as led to her marriage to her equally talented husband David. Now, however, she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her anger at her condition and inability to cope with its effect on her career, as well as her relationship with her husband, lead her to seek psychiatric help from a therapist named Dr. Feldmann. While Feldmann cannot cure Stephanie’s musical woes, can he help her realize fulfillment in other ways?
Highlights: Tom Kempinski’s sober, compelling two-act drama won the London Theatre Critics Award for Best Play in 1980. It’s a taut, delicate study of a brilliant woman’s mental and emotional deterioration in response to her debilitating physical condition, offering a richly nuanced role for an actress up to the challenge.
Christina Rios is such an actress, as she clearly demonstrated in the one-weekend production mounted by Soundstage Too’s reading theater. Director Randy Stinebaker assembled three capable performers, namely Rios, Ken Haller as her therapist and violinist Laura Sexauer, in a lovingly crafted and affecting production that put the focus on Kempinski’s convincing dialogue.
Other Info: Performing on a modest set that represented Dr. Feldmann’s New York City office with a reading table, a few chairs and a wheelchair utilized by Stephanie, the presentation aptly demonstrated how less can be more when handled appropriately.
Rios appeared to have memorized most of the script, allowing her to fully throw herself into her portrayal. She did so quite convincingly, maintaining a tough and sarcastic veneer to mask her character’s painful fears and vulnerability at her declining condition and her weakening grasp of her art and her passion. She proved adept at conveying her character’s decline on various visits with alarming psychological defeat as much as her physical limitations. Stinebaker’s employment of Sexauer to provide haunting background music shrewdly provided a grim reminder of Stephanie’s once formidable talent.
Haller complemented Rios’ crackling depiction of her brittle character with a performance that moved from a professional demeanor that initially seemed to border on aloof indifference and near invisibility to an increasingly escalated involvement in his patient’s acceptance of her fate and invigoration for a suitable substitute in her life. As a result, the second act was considerably more intriguing and vibrant than the first.
Based loosely on the life of cellist Jacqueline du Pre, Duet for One is a seldom seen, intriguing little gem that provides accomplished performers with considerable room to demonstrate their own artistic flair. With a sizzling and affecting performance by Rios and the capable contributions of Haller and Sexauer, this Soundstage Too production achieved just that.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.