DUSE adapted by Jennifer Dale and Nick Mancuso from a play by Ghigo de Chiara, directed by Mancuso, with Dale. Presented by Alianak Theatre in association with Centro Scuola e Cultura Italiana Columbus Centre/Villa Charities at the Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Runs to June 20, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $21-$28, Sunday limited pwyc. 416-504-7529. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Plays like Duse give biographical one-person shows a bad name. Jennifer Dale is Eleanora Duse, the legendary Italian actor known for introducing naturalism to stage acting. The lover and muse of poet/playwright Gabriele D'Annunzio - a figure probably best known to Toronto theatre-going audiences as a character in Tamara - Duse impressed everyone from Chekhov and Ibsen to Chaplin and Gish.
It's hard to imagine TV/film star Dale doing the same.
Set on the last night of the actor's life in a hotel room in Pittsburgh - "Don't let me die in a city with such a ridiculous name" is one of the script's few good lines - the play careens from cliché to cliché.
As Duse recounts her poor childhood and unhappy life, she picks up photos and talks to them, plucks scarves from a trunk to bask in memories and mimics a journalist asking her questions so she can answer them. She also coughs a lot and takes her temperature to see if she's OK - something the audience wishes it could do, too.
All this would be bearable in, say, a 60-minute Fringe show. But the thin material is stretched over two acts and 110 minutes.
There's little dramatic variety in the writing, and from the show you'd think that Duse's life was all pain and misery. Where's the joy in acting? The juicy gossip?
With nothing to concentrate on, the audience is left to admire Dale's beauty and wonder if Botox has kept her neck looking so damned good.
A couple of moments come alive, especially when Dale/Duse recreates a dramatic character - a Juliet or a Nora.
But basically this is the kind of show that many actors long to perform because they think it's about the pain and hardships of the nomadic life they've chosen. At Sunday's pwyc performance, Air Farce funny lady Luba Goy gave Dale a standing ovation. Was she applauding the performance or acknowledging the sacrifices of actors everywhere?