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Duets

a World Premiere
CATEGORY :
by Peter Quilter

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 3347

SHOWING : March 05, 2009 - March 29, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Aurora Theatre has the distinct honor of being chosen for the American premiere of Duets, the new romantic comedy by Peter Quilter. Mr. Quilter is author of the 2006 Aurora Theatre hit Glorious!, the heartwarming comedy based on the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins, the worst singer in the world. Representing the baby boomer generation, Duets is a series of vignettes performed by two actors that explores the lighter side of romance and relationships. Theatrically brilliant, Duets is created for the audience to witness the magic of theatre as actors perform costume changes onstage as the scenery shifts to the next story – all written as part of the performance.

Two of Atlanta’s finest actors are brave enough to attempt the feat of portraying five distinctly different couples. The relationships range from siblings to best friends and every conceivable romance, from a blind date through a divorce. The hilarious Don Finney who just finished delighting audiences as the lovable scamp Major Powell in Corpse will join Marianne Fraulo who Aurora Theatre audiences will remember from Glorious! as a gifted comedienne. Duets was written as in homage to Neil Simon and Peter Quilter includes a dedication to the award winning playwright in his manuscript. It is a fitting tribute because Duets possesses the same blend of sentiment and humor that has made Neil Simon’s works the gold standard of Broadway comedy.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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The Ties That Bind
by Dedalus
Sunday, March 29, 2009
4.5
“Duets” by Peter Quilter is a collage of relationship Vignettes – five twenty-minute sketches that hardly even scratch the surface of what it means to be bound to another person. And yet, the sketches themselves are compelling enough, dense enough, funny enough, and varied enough that I couldn’t help but cherish the pieces. It is, in effect, a partial patchwork quilt that exemplifies the whole, reminding us that there are thousands of other patches just out of sight.

That it is couched in a marvelously designed and produced framework is just that comfy stuffing that completes the picture.

In “Blind Date,” Jon and Wendy are meeting for the first time. All the awkward silences are here, all the exciting discoveries, all the joys that “newness” brings into a relationship are the drivers of this scene.

Next, “Secretarial Skills” shows us a work relationship that is more intense and intimate than any physical connection can offer. Janet and Barrie are celebrating their ”5,000th Day together” (for those too busy to do the math, that’s 13.68925 years). Barrie is a flamboyantly gay entrepreneur, and Janet has a “back-up” plan to ensure they don’t whither into twilight alone and unloved.

In “The Show Must Go On,” long-married actors William and Diana grapple with the age-old quandary, are you married to the theatre or to that cranky old person who shares your life. Or is there room for both?

“South of the Border” shows Shelly and Bobby that divorce isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and “The Bride to Be” gives us a brother and sister (Angela and Toby) fighting the omens of the worst wedding ever.

The tone of these vignettes is all over the map (as they should be). Whimsical regret fights with caricatured slapstick. Outright farce gives way to sudden sadness. Eager expectation steps aside for comfortable longevity. Not every relationship is successful, not every relationship is sexual. What all five couples share is an emotional intimacy, a feeling that whether they belong or don’t belong together, they will be ever affected by the other person, that the relationship has become an integral part of their individuality.

What makes the writing so good here is that Mr. Quilter is able to create fully developed characters with depths of relationships that transcend the short running times. Even when playing with caricature-based humor (“South of the Border”), lines are said, choices made that surprise and undercut the stereotype. And the language is always beautifully rendered, character-specific, and emotionally satisfying.

The structural contrivance of setting all five pieces on the same basic set (generic living room / kitchen combination) even works for me. The symbolic universality of the stories may be overstated, but the simple changes that individualize the scenes are clever and focused. (And I loved the stylized choreography of dancer Angela Harris who executes all the scene changes).

Oh, did I mention that all five plays are performed by the same two actors? Marianne Fraulo is more successful at painting starkly different women (though her wigmaker deserves a portion of the credit). If I didn’t have a program in hand, I never would have suspected it was the same actress in every scene (Well, we do see her changing on stage during the scene shifts, but my attention was more focused on the set-change dancesprite). Don Finney brings to his performances his normal range and depth, but I sometimes felt as if he we purposefully going “over the top,” trying too hard to project to the back of the small Aurora house. In particular, his Toby (“Bride to Be”) is essentially one-note British bluster until a nicely mellow ending. Still, he is constantly amusing, moving, and surprising. It is also to his credit that the horrendous hairpiece in “Blind Date” came across as an eccentric character choice, one he makes funny and believable.

I believe this sort of “short play” writing can sometimes be more effective than full-length stories. Characters and situations have to be established with as few words as possible without relying on stereotype paradigms, and broad-stroke characterizations have to have an underlying specificity and depth. I also believe that “patchwork” productions such as this can be much more satisfying than more traditional romantic comedies, and can illuminate more “aspects of love” while throwing a spotlight on the universalities that drive relationships.

And I also think that plays that strike such a wide range of emotional chords, that move us and tickle us and tease us need to be treasured. “Duets” is a play to be treasured!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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Acting by playgoer
I had pretty much the opposite reaction to the performances of Marianne Fraulo and Don Finney. Ms. Fraulo is definitely a competent actress, and she made choices that gave her distinctly different voices for her characters. The choices, however, each came across to me as an actor's choice rather than as an embodiment of a true character. Aside from the first scene, in which both actors seemed to have been directed to over-project and mug, Don Finney's choices were seamlessly integrated into the characters he played. In the last two scenes, his redneck and his British gentleman were totally different, but both totally believable. I didn't really believe Marianne Fraulo in these scenes. (And I detested the auburn bird's nest of a wig she was saddled with it the second scene!)


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