Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dance of Death

Thrilled to have an audience, George and Martha--no, woops, Edgar and Alice--strut their hated and acid barbs with the eagerness of a three-year-old saying, "Mommy, did you see that? Mommy, did you see that?" It's August Strindberg's Dance of Death, and the audience, Alice's cousin Gustav, is no happier watching them than are Nick and Honey watching George and Martha in Edward Albee's similar but much superior Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Daniel David, Laila Robins
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Edgar and Alice have been married 25 dreadful years. They live on an isolated island where Edgar is a captain in the military and has alienated their few neighbors. They're broke, their children avoid them, and Edgar is probably dying. Their sole recreational activity is sniping at one another. It gets boring for Gustave and it gets boring for us, but it never gets boring for them.

Albee's brilliance in Virginia Woolf is to force Nick and Honey, particularly Nick, to become part of George and Martha's game, requiring George and Martha to make some different moves and try some different strategies. Edgar and Alice, in contrast, are stuck on "repeat," and their ostensible rapprochement at the end is completely unconvincing, in contrast to George and Martha's heartbreaking detente.

The Red Bull Theater's current production of Dance at Death at the Lucille Lortel theater is anchored by a moving performance by Daniel Davis, who vividly depicts the headstrong life force of a dying man who will leave behind nothing he cherishes but nevertheless refuses to go. Laila Robins is not the equal sparring partner the play requires; her voice and presence are too small. (I kept wishing I was watching Colleen Dewhurst.) Derek Smith is unable to do anything interesting with the supporting role of Gustave, but that is probably the role's fault.

The adaptation, by Mike Poulton, shortens the play without successfully streamlining it but provides energetic and evocative language. The direction, by Joseph Hardy, moves the play along efficiently. The set (Beowulf Boritt), costumes (Alejo Vietti), and lighting (Clifton Taylor) are effective. 

(third row on the aisle, press ticket)

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