If you’ve ever felt the need to share your most intimate concerns with a patient psychiatrist, you’ll recognize and probably identify with Stephanie Abrahams, the troubled star of “Duet for One,” which recently opened at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
It’s a grueling play that compresses about eight years of therapy into two and a half harrowing hours. But it’s well
worth it to see two magnificent actors do their stuff.
As it opens, Mia Christou, as Mrs. Abrahams, cultured and intensely self-involved, breezes into her new doctor’s comfortable office and you can almost smell the perfume you imagine she is wearing. And it doesn’t diminish her presence a bit when you notice she is carrying a cane or riding in a wheelchair.
Imperiously, she informs the doctor that she is there only because her husband has insisted that she needs help. But the fact that she has multiple sclerosis is not her major problem, as she demonstrates immediately when she begins to interact with the doctor.
Her opening monologue, delivered at breakneck speed, is accompanied by erratic hand gestures, coy, wide-eyed
smiles, and abrupt swivels of her head. It’s obvious that she means to appear “charming.”
The doctor, Dr. Feldmann, played with quiet dignity by Howard Leder, exudes the appropriately grave manner that gently encourages her to express details of her life which she had been avoiding since childhood. He even gets her to acknowledge that in her “low” times she has considered suicide. Although, she is quick to assure him, she “thinks of it infrequently now.”
On her next visit she declares, maniacally, that she is “happy” now. And at Feldmann’s soft urging, she tells him of her family history. Her mother was a distinguished concert pianist who supported her daughter’s passion for music and was gratified when the girl became something of a virtuoso on the violin. Unfortunately, her mother died when she was 9, and as an only child she was left with a father who had no interest in music and was completely indifferent to her talent. “Artists are no better than scum,” he told her. And when he stopped paying for her music lessons, she screamed at him, “Hurry up and die so I can use the money for my music lessons!”
Then, shortly after meeting David, a fellow violinist, she married him and they contentedly played their violins together. “It’s not a fairy story,” she confesses to the doctor, but turns defensive when he asks her if her debilitating illness has affected their relationship. Instantly angry, she shouts, “We have worked out ways of working out these changes BECAUSE WE LOVE EACH OTHER!”
When David began to compose music, however, she voluntarily gave up her career in order to support him, but she became thoughtful when the doctor pointed out that action paralleled her mother’s. Her mother had also given up her career for the sake of her husband, but not before she had nurtured her daughter’s considerable talent.
Nearing the end of her sometimes combative sessions with Dr. Feldmann, Mrs. Abrahams has grown significantly and manages to maintain a calm demeanor as he suggests that she has been at the mercy of her “unconscious mind” and worried too much about the purpose and challenges of getting through life.
“The purpose of life is life itself!” he calls out to her as she prepares to leave his office for the last time.
Tom Kempinski is the author of this heavy-duty drama that has played successfully in London’s West End, Broadway,
and 42 other countries. The two incredible actors were meticulously directed by Allen Barton, a Los Angeles-based playwright, director, teacher, and classical pianist.
“Duet for One” will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 through May 12 at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., in Beverly Hills.
Tickets may be obtained by phoning (800) 838-3006 or online at https://duetforonebhp.brownpapertickets.com.