World-renowned Italian actress Eleanora Duse allegedly once said, “When we grow old, there can only be one regret—not to have given enough of ourselves.” An obsessive, tireless performer, Duse died on tour in 1924 from tuberculosis, aged 65. Set several months before her death, writer-performer Mica Bagnasco’s one-woman show explores Duse’s life through the recollections of Nina, her dresser of 26 years. As the crippled Nina limps around the dressing room awaiting her cues at a performance of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, she frets over her mistress’s health while sharing Duse trivia with the audience.
Though Duse’s life was certainly fascinating, much of Bagnasco’s unimaginative script comes off like a bland recitation of her biography; she reads reviews and discusses Duse’s lovers, admirers (including Chaplin and Chekhov), and rivalry with Sarah Bernhardt. The most tension-filled moments occur when Duse is brought to life for costume changes via a recording of a woman coughing and barking orders in Italian from behind a dressing screen. Bagnasco is a fine actress, but would have been better served if director Douglas S. Hall had kept her excessive pacing and gesticulating to a minimum. Sadly Duse’s Fever is anything but infectious.