"Hailing from a script by David Bosley and directed by Ezra Buzzington, “Duchess” impresses immensely and sets a high standard for future Fringe production teams. For just about an hour the audience is invited to bear witness to a starkly honest conversation between two women from seemingly very different backgrounds as they maneuver through their initial impressions, self-righteous judgments, sarcastic banter, and finally perhaps a mutual understanding? The script keeps things tight (save one small section near the climax; more on that below), and reads like a conversation from a great Elmore Leonard novel; watching two people talk to each other has never been more delicious. Buzzington keeps his staging simple, with the two women moving around a dressing room for most of the proceedings—Buzzington picks his moments of stillness wisely; when the women break from circling each other like fierce lionesses to stay still and actually listen to each other, it’s striking.
Of course, all of this would be meaningless if your actresses can’t deliver—suffice to say Chandler and Miller are more than up to the task.
Chandler is the picture of regal staunchness, in her long evening gown, fine jewelry, and her Transatlantic accent. She recalls the movie stars from the Golden Age as she parades across the stage, bringing a practiced etiquette which is dropped only every so often, revealing the vulnerability and regret that simmers just beneath the surface. It’s a heartbreaking performance and you can’t get enough of it. Her performance builds into a climax of its own, and the honesty of her last few moments will take your breath away.
Miller delivers a career-best performance here. Her Blaze whirlwinds onto the scene with the fearless sensual physicality Miller is known for. The stage is hers much as the dressing room is Blaze’s; and she keeps the drinks flowing and the costumes changing without ever missing a beat. Her southern twang is warm and charming but the zingers she delivers at breakneck pace are sharp and never miss the mark. But watch Miller when she’s still—when she’s at her mirror or hiding behind the drink cart. It’s in these moments where she reveals the price she’s paid, and is still paying; these brief flits of honesty and vulnerability are deftly executed and a sign that no one could have played this role but Ms Miller. In contrast to Chandler’s slow-burn, Miller’s Blaze burns brightly from the top and holds steady as more is revealed.
Special mention must be made of Krista Conti as Blaze’s sister June. Her moments of light brevity are appreciated and executed flawlessly, with a sharp turn towards the end that reveals her own emotional depth.
Serious level of talent on the stage here, folks. See this play.
What I didn't like
There is one small section toward the end of the show that shouldn’t be spoiled, but I felt betrayed the pacing of the script thus far. The performances elevate and the payoff is more than worth it, but it felt a bit gimmicky and why give us gimmicks when the core conversation is compelling enough?
A slight blip that doesn’t take anything away from the production, just a taste issue for this writer.
My overall impression
A refreshingly straightforward true theatre piece featuring a delicious conversation between two no-nonsense women brought to life by a sharp script, intuitive, no-frills direction, and firecracker performances."
Fictional meeting between the Duchess of Windsor and stripper Blaze Starr in 1961.
What if Wallis Simpson, the American wife of the Duke of Windsor (formerly Edward VIII), met Blaze Starr, the stripper and club owner? This is the premise of The Duchess and the Stripper by David Bosley. The fictional meeting takes place backstage at Starr’s Baltimore nightclub in 1961.
The two women ostensibly have little in common, they are on opposite ends of the social order, but somehow they win each other’s grudging respect as their stories are shared, and find some sorority. Both of them have reached far greater heights than could reasonably be expected. Should they be considered as unwitting pioneers on the long march towards sexual equality? Or were they just social climbing opportunists selling their only assets?
The play doesn’t judge, presenting each character as likable and fully justified in the course their life has taken. Alli Miller has an easy southern charm and is perfectly credible as the recently bereaved dancer, pouring whisky to loosen the duchess’s initially discrete tongue. There is an admirable candor to this Blaze Starr, she stands naked and unashamed.
Wallis Simpson,played by Blaire Chandler, reveals herself more slowly, aware that her actions and attitudes might seem dated to the younger woman before her. Her guard lowers gradually as she learns to trust that Ms. Starr’s dressing room is a judgment-free zone. The two life stories are all the more interesting for being told to each other. There is a tension in the telling, both women seem to want the blessing and approval of the other.
The cast is rounded out by Krista Conti as June, Blaze’s sister/dresser.
Fringe veteran Ezra Buzzington directs with considerable flair, what could have been a talking heads show is kept alive with detailed and appropriate business, and good use of sound and light.
The performances are uniformly excellent and solid, even at this first preview. I predict they will only get better. I highly recommend this show.
JUNE 18, 2019 not born yesterday original article
In my former life as a librettist I wrote a musical, THE WINDSOR FOLLIES, about this same Duchess that performed in their Royal Suite at The Waldorf Towers (see it on You Tube). I was curious to see playwright David Bosley’s take on Wallis Simpson from Baltimore, who snared a King, and was delighted to recognize the same enigmatic gal I had discovered. No need to question why she would flee a socialite party to hang out with a gaudy strip-teaser who owned her own club. In this remarkable play, brilliantly directed by Ezra Buzzington, two women who came from nothing, yet achieved international fame, spend an hour comparing notes. Blaire Chandler is a believably introspective Wallis and lets us see deep into the soul of a normally secretive woman. Alli Miller is not only gorgeous as Blaze, she also reveals the shrewd yet understanding nature she usually masks behind pasties and G-strings.
Expand the play another 35 minutes and take it to NY’s 59 East 59th Street Theatre.
Don’t miss this well-structured dramatic play that is an emotional and intellectually-erogenous masterpiece.
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