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LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
By Julia Furay
Eleonora Duse herself couldn’t have asked for a more dedicated and admiring biographer than Mica Bagnasco, the author and star of Duse’s Fever. The one-woman show at Theatre Row is a real love letter to the legendary Italian actress. Although only an hour long, it leaves no stone unturned in documenting Duses life, loves and great performances.
As a biography, Duses Fever is an interesting account of a colorful and passionate life. As a play, however, it’s disappointing and rather aimless.
Duse, a rival of Sarah Bernhardt’s, was an actress as devoted to her craft as any ever was. A highly naturalistic actress, she received acclaim from such disparate figures as Charlie Chaplin and Konstantin Stanislavsky. Bagnasco tells us of her many love affairs, her determination to perform through illness, her reluctant motherhood and an endless array of inspiring performances.
A life like this can't help but be interesting and Bagnasco documents them with pride and clarity.So what’s the problem? To begin with, we never see Duse since Bagnasco surprisingly opts not to perform as Duse but as Nina Gibello, her adoring dresser. Thus we get to know Duse strictly through Nina which makes for an inversion of the old "show, don’t tell" rule.
Duse's Fever finds Nina waiting in the dressing room while the great actress is performing Hedda Gabler. It's 1923 and Duse is dying from tuberculosis so that just getting through each performance is a torturous ordeal. This has Nina becomes increasingly distressed as the performance wears on wondering whether tonight be the night the actress won't make it through the performance. The tense situation might be more suspenseful if we could actually see Duse but even if she were to die, there's little momentum for the audience to be caught up in Nina’s panic about her mistress.
The play isn't helped by Douglas Hall’s strangely unrealistic staging. Nina seems to be wandering around for dramatic effect rather than doing her job as a dresser (there are costumes and books lying around which Nina is supposedly cleaning and packing). On a positive note, Kevin Judge and Davide Borella have created attractive scenery and costumes, respectively, so that Bagnasco looks great throughout.
Finally, Nina is an admittedly biased narrator, at one point exclaiming "Art might be her fever, but Madame Duse is mine!" Unfortunately, this unwavering devotion and adoration, makes Duse’s Fever feel more like one of those authorized biographies than a really vibrant drama about the woman whose name drew us to see the play.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide