DUET FOR ONE, Stockyards Theatre Project, at Victory Gardens Theater. The therapist-patient relationship has proved irresistible to many filmmakers and playwrights. In the usual blueprint, a patient arrives full of resentment and denial, plays verbal games with the shrink, experiences an initial triumph followed by a setback, and ultimately realizes the value of both the doctor’s sage advice and life itself.
Tom Kempinski’s 1980 drama follows this pattern: Stephanie, a brilliant violinist with multiple sclerosis–based loosely on Jacqueline du Pre, the English cellist who retired at age 28 because of MS–consults Dr. Feldmann. But director Lynn Ann Bernatowicz, aided by John Rodriguez’s evocative set and lighting, finds several grace notes amid the cliches. By changing the shrink from a man to a woman, she freshens up some of the story’s hoarier aspects. For one thing, Dr. Feldmann’s obsession with Stephanie’s childless state feels less like a paternalistic put-down and more like the musings of another ambitious woman who may have faced her own wrenching choices.
Kempinski’s script has some beautiful passages, especially for Stephanie, but we never learn much about the therapist. Dawn Alden’s performance as Dr. Feldmann is appropriately watchful and buttoned-down, but it’s Michele DiMaso’s blazing, fearless incarnation of Stephanie, who rages at the dying of her talent, that makes the show worth seeing.