Musical follows ups, downs of relationship

Original 'Duo' to be staged at the Box Factory this weekend

ST. JOSEPH - During "Espresso: Four Chicago Voices," a cabaret concert held last November at the Box Factory for the Arts, Elizabeth Doyle sang "There You Are," a piece she had written for Bill C. Thomas's original play, "Duo: 1 Is 1; 2 Is Math."

"People kept coming up to me afterwards saying, ‘I just loved that song,'" Doyle says by telephone from Chicago, "but I never thought we'd get to do the entire thing." The two-person musical, directed and produced by Bob Breuler, featuring Doyle's music and starring Suzanne Petri and Roger Anderson, will in fact be staged both Saturday and Sunday at the Box Factory.

The story follows a couple from their first meeting through their marriage and the ups and downs of their relationship as they move through their life together, growing, moving and changing.

"It really is like real life, the way couples talk to each other," says Petri, who also happens to be married to Breuler. "I think the playwright has gotten a lot of inspiration from us. It's funny. It's touching. It's deep. It really touches all bases of life as a couple. That's what really drew us to it." Breuler, who has been a member of the Steppenwolf acting ensemble for more than 23 years, first encountered the scenes that would become "Duo" when Thomas invited him to the Chicago bar, Weeds.

"Bill is an old Chicago barfly and he was reading some of his stuff there so he invited us out," Breuler says. "That's where he handed me this play. It was really just a number of one page snippets. The job over the years was to make if flow, which was a real exciting process."

It was also Breuler who enlisted Doyle to turn the play into a musical.

"It was poetic," Breuler says. "The language itself was poetic and I thought it might be supported by some music. It was just a feeling I had and lucky enough when I showed it to Elizabeth she felt the same way."

Doyle, who in addition to her cabaret work has also penned the musicals "Sleepy Hollow" and "The White City," said she found the songs in Thomas's text.

Thomas, who has written and produced 20 experimental plays during a 40-year span, has called "Duo" his most conventional work since it delves into such common themes as the couple getting into financial trouble and sticking it out despite their struggles. Doyle, however, says the way those scenes were written called for unconventional songs. "The text dictated that they weren't going to be regular songs," Doyle says. "They're more train of thought pieces. They're thoughts set to music. I heard very modern music but more akin to classical music than pop. It has more of a chamber music feel to it."

In addition to "There You Are," are songs such as "I Don't Like/I Like" and "Why We Stuck." "It resonates with couples of all sorts," says Doyle, who will perform piano accompaniment this weekend. "It's sort of universal for anyone who has spent time together."

The play has been presented in workshop form on just three other occasions, including last October at Stage 773 in Chicago. After the Box Factory performances it will be staged for two nights at Steppenwolf.

"This is hopefully the final iteration of the piece so we're excited to show it in front of a group of people who have never seen it before," says Petri, who has also been an ensemble member of American Blues Theater since 1998. "We feel very passionately about it and are hoping to find a theater that will want to do a full production."

Published 5/19/11 in the Herald-Palladium (HP Default) on page D1