The road to recovery after a dear loss can be an arduous journey — particularly if that loss is the definitive essence of an individual's existence. English playwright Tom Kempinski's "Duet for One" shows us Stephanie Abrahams — a concert violinist who is suddenly stricken with multiple sclerosis. Confined to a wheelchair, she becomes convinced that her life is worthless and drifts through bitterness and isolation.
"If you can imagine the level that Abrahams reached in her career before being told that she couldn't play, the loss is tremendous," says Doug Warner, artistic director of Next Stage Repertory Company. "Performing music is everything to her. It's where she lives. It completely defines her."
"Duet for One," with Presila Quinby as Abrahams and John Leister as Dr. Alfred Feldmann — the German psychiatrist who treats her — will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, March 28-29, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets cost $12 and may be purchased at the Craterian box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., Medford, and www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.
Warner first produced and directed "Duet for One" in 1987 for the Mendocino Theatre Company in California.
"The beauty of this play is that it looks at a great artist and the path that was chosen for her," he says. "All artists face the challenge of becoming great when society would prefer they work in factories or deliver milk. Most must choose whether to give up their passion or become their own advocate. Then there's the challenge of a life-threatening illness."
Desperate and with a wicked disposition, Abrahams seeks out Feldmann, a caring man who loves classical music and the arts.
"She's in denial in the beginning," Warner says. "She has a plan that includes teaching music to children and assisting her husband, a concert conductor. But she hasn't really come to terms with what has happened to her."
Feldmann recognizes Abrahams' stage of grief and understands that her initial plan will unravel.
"He shows great wisdom and strength," Warner says. "As the play unfolds, we see that he's very good at what he does. He has to be because she resists him on all levels. The greater the loss, the tougher denial is to break through."
Feldmann sees Abrahams' denial as a good place to start treatment. During the six sessions the two share in the play, we see Abrahams in different stages of loss: anger, bargaining and depression.
"There are times when she goes after Feldmann left and right," Warner says. "She belittles him and makes fun of his things much as a child acting out for attention. Some of her comments are quite dark. Feldmann is quiet as he tries to provide avenues for Abrahams to uncover and explore her own insights in order to answer questions herself."
Of course, Abrahams hates him for this.
"The drama is unbelievably gripping, and it's a great story — perfect for Next Stage Repertory. The dialogue is spot-on; the writing is rich with insight, tension and stressors that shape the play."
Next Stage Repertory is all about illuminating the human experience through story and metaphor.
"Good theater should inform but in a different way than a newspaper or book," Warner says. "It should reach people through the story."
Kempinski's story is based on the life of British cellist Jacqueline du Pre.
"It's a well-crafted drama, and Kempinski provides fully fleshed-out characters," Warner says. "I always follow the direction of the writer and the character he has developed rather than actual circumstances. The aspect of the historical characters became irrelevant to me. My perspective was on the two fictional characters.
"I'm kind of a psychology buff and like to use those processes to steer actors toward discovery."