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Simon shares two plays in a row worth seeing

By Staff | Jan 15, 2009

When was the last time you saw two plays in two days in a row? It’s something I love to do. Well, right in Fort Myers on Saturday night I saw one fine play, and on Sunday, with a little run up to Sarasota, a matinee of another excellent choice.

Fort Myers’ own Theatre Conspiracy, in it’s charming black box house, with seats of couches and dining room chairs from the Salvation Army, and other thrift shops is the home until Jan. 24th. Here I watched a play by Tom Kempenski called “Duet for One”. Kempenski did the screen play for the 1986 film that starred Julie Andrews, Incidentally, the play and movie are said be based loosely on the real life of cellist, Jacqueline du Pre’ and her husband conductor, Daniel Barenboim.

Bill Taylor has very skillfully directed two good local actors in a fine professional production that is well worth your time and money. It’s a two- character play, and they can be difficult to pull-off, but this one has a lively pace and rich and sometimes ribald dialogue that will keep you awake during and long after the stage goes dark at the end.

The conflict is real. Stephanie Abrahams is a gifted professional violinist, ably played by Joann Haley who brings a wealth of credits collected in various theaters in the area. But we have to say, Stephanie was a violinist. We learn in the very first scene that she has been stricken with Multiple Sclerosis, the dreaded M.S. She will never play violin again. That horrible idea sits heavily on us in the audience.

The other character in the duet, is a highly respected psychotherapist, Dr. Feldmann, skillfully played by Michael McNally. S. Abrahams is clearly devastated under the weight of the disease, and doesn’t want to be in therapy, but her husband has pushed that she get some help. The therapy unfolds in six scenes. The conflict grows more real each scene under Taylor’s very able direction. There is much confrontation, often loud and raucous, but Taylor never lets it get out of hand.

The doctor and patient become adversaries and you sit there taking sides, and then switching, and switching back and forth several more times. That’s how compelling the play is. It has some of the same grip the play, “Doubt” had on an audience, as you try to figure out is Dr. Feldmann really helping or are his efforts hopeless as Ms. Abramson heads toward self destruction.

“Duet for One” plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, with one Matinee, Sunday, Jan. 17th and closes Sunday night, Jan. 24th The Box Office number is: 239- 936-3239. Tickets are $22 and $10 for students.

The second play is up at Asolo, where the gifted second year graduate students of FSU’s/ Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training program knock themselves out in a superb ensemble production of Melanie Marnich’s play, “Blur.”

The production, beautifully directed by Barbara Redmond, is enchanting. There are 30 different scenes, set in 17 different locations, all done with minimalist wit and charm. You want to just tip your hat to the ingenuity of how they pulled it off. It probably should have been a movie, not a play, but it works.

Again, the conflict is real. A young teenager finds out she has a rare, degenerative, eye disease that will most likely leave her blind. How does that thought blur your own vision?

She is played so skillfully by Kirstin Franklin, that you truly come to care for her at a heart rendering level. I walked out to the lobby after Act I deeply moved by all that Ms. Franklin had portrayed about a young woman on the road to blindness. Now that is a quality, a richness, a truth, and an emotional impact that I demand of theater. I said to myself, that Melanie Marnich can damn well write, and this acting ensemble knows what it has to do to make her words sing.

In the first act you meet her mother, a most unattractive woman and one I would never have wanted for my own mother, but skillfully played by Sarah Gavitt. A lot of the play is the conflict between the daughter and the mother.

There is a blue-collar boyfriend, nicely handled by Peter Mendez who anchors a sweet love affair written and staged with tenderness and charm. We meet a disillusioned priest, played by Kevin Stanfa, giving us one of wittiest and in-depth performances in the whole play. Alexandra Guyker provides some marvelous comic relief as the wild hippy lesbian pal to Dot during her growing eye disease problems.

A solid portrayal of the eye doctor by Ghafir Akbar (who has some other minor roles, as well) gives great credibility to the realities Dot and her mother must face.

On the ride home from Sarasota I thought about this play a lot. The playwright has a tremendous list of accomplishments and awards, ranging all over the regional theater world. But, I couldn’t shake the feeling, that the second act never reached the power and emotional impact that the first act had achieved for me.