by Lucy Allen
Play about MS showcases intense and moving performances for the Toronto stage.
Stage Toronto’s Duet for One, which opened in the Tarragon Mainspace this weekend, is definately one of those plays you see if you’re in the right mood for it. It’s a pretty heavy experience, but despite a slow beginning it’s one worth taking the journey for.
Inspired by the life of Jacqueline du Pre, Duet for One goes through six therapy sessions between Stephanie Abrahams (Faye Lavin), a concert violinist who’s contracted MS, and her doctor Alfred Feldman (Christopher Kelk). In denial about the full ramifications her disease will bring to her way of life, Stephanie must face her inner demons before they overwhelm her life.
Lavin and Kelk’s performances are the strongest part about the show. Both have the most difficult blocking to pull off, basically confined to their chairs for almost the entirety of the play. Somehow, though, their energy remains high and I rarely found myself taking my focus off of them. The accents used were a little off-putting at first, but I gradually got used to them. Kelk gives a great subtlety and nuance to a somewhat static character, and Lavin pulls out all the emotional stops as Stephanie and had me tearing up more than once during the show.
The first half of the show tends to drag and get fairly repetitive, a result of the script more than anything. Both my show partner Jon and I felt that the scenes were just a little too long and the build-up a bit too slow. This is a familiar story, and you can see where it’s going (though there was one unexpected moment that I won’t spoil that took me by surprise) so it didn’t really need to play out as long as did. It was essentially one long monologue, and I found myself wanting to hear more from the doctor and less from the repetitively defensive Stephanie.
In fact, Jon had a very difficult time warming up to the character of Stephanie. He didn’t find her a very likeable character at all. I thought it was kind of the point of the show since we were only seeing her unwillingness to co-operate with her therapist, but I can understand his frustration.
Thankfully the second half picks right up, and made up a lot for the slow first act. The doctor began to get more involved and animated and Stephanie showed many different sides of her pesonality as she was gradually broken down by the therapy sessions. The second last climatic scene is the most memorable of the play, with both characters reaching a breaking point in very surprising ways. There was finally a relationship between her and the doctor that was far more interesting to watch and was worth the wait.
By the end of Duet for One I felt almost as emotionally drained as Stephanie. Being from an arts background myself, the idea of losing the ability to express myself creatively is a terrifying one at best and to see someone’s gradual break-down at dealing with that was difficult to watch for me. You don’t need to know a lot of background about MS or about the true story this is based on to understand the pain that the character is going through.
If you’re up for a moving and intense night of theatre, check out Duet for One. It can seem long at first and you know the end result from the beginning, but the performances make it seem fresh and by the time that end comes along it’s a satisfying experience.
–Duet for One is playing at the Tarragon Mainspace (30 Bridgeman Avenue) until June 20.
-Shows are Tues-Sat at 8pm and Sun at 2:30pm
-Tickets are $30 or $20 for seniors/students.
-Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416-531-1827.
-Photograph of Christopher Kelk and Faye Lavin provided by STAGE Toronto