By Holli Harms
The Dance Of Death now playing at the Classic Stage Company made me think of the lyrics from Old Man River, “ I’m tired of livin’ and scared of dyin’ ”. That is the plight of the two main characters in Conor McPherson’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s play.
The play opens with an actual dance by husband, Edgar ( Richard Topol) and wife, Alice (Cassie Beck) showing the timeline of their relationship – Starting with the light of first love, then the annoyances of marriage and then the disdain.
This is a marriage gutted like an animal of its entrails and left to die at the hands of the carrion- eaters of the local village. Edgar and Alice go after one another with the joy of the kill and the love of the blood. Like two spoiled, bored children they go at it again and again. Attack, retreat. Attack, retreat. They have been doing this for 25 years and they are good at it. This is in fact days before they “celebrate” their 25th anniversary. And both dread another 25. Maybe Edgar will die and soon. Alice can only hope.
“Our long miserable mistake to ourselves,” is how Edgar describes their marriage.
Isolated from their beloved Copenhagen on a desolate little Island where the locals hate them and their own children desert them they are left with nothing to do but torture one another.
Edgar is military captain, 15 years older than Alice and he is sickly. He is drinking too much, there is no more money and their home that they have been given by the military is an old prison and not a place of comfort or solace.
There is however a reprieve to their boredom with the arrival of Alice’s cousin and the one who introduced them, Kurt ( Christopher Innvar). Kurt the breath of fresh air, the voice of reason, is quickly poisoned by Alice and Edgar’s vile putrid selves and he himself plummets into the dark world of vengeance, hate and lust.
Set in the round, the actors in continuous movement, the play trots along but the movement is forced, staged. These are all damn fine actors but something is missing; connection, ensemble. They are not in step. Not in tune with one another. It is subtle but the subtlety in this play rings out like a giant church bell. Which is a shame because to watch Topol and Beck sparring in the ring of their marriage giving and taking the punches should be one continuous blast for us to witness but for now it is in stops and starts, spurts of it but not enough. This is one of Strindberg’s most daring plays and was way beyond its time when first staged in 1905 and McPherson’s adaptation is modern and wildly gratifying so lets hope that as the production continues it can solidify this most interesting of takes on marriage.
THE DANCE OF DEATH, A New Adaptation of August Strindberg’s play by Conor McPherson at Classic Stage Company
With: Cassie Beck , Christopher Innvar, Richard Topol
Directed by Victoria Clark, Scenic Design – David L. Arsenault, Costume Design – Tricia Barsamian, Lighting Design – Stacey Derosier, Sound Design – Quentin Chiappetta, Original Music – Jeff Blumenkrantz, Fight and Intimacy Direction- Alicia Rodis and Claire Warden, Production Stage Manager Roxana Khan, Assistant Stage Manager – Janelle Caso, Artistic Director – John Doyle
The Dance of Death is running in rep through March 10, 2019 with new adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie (Mies Julie) and special packages to see both shows start at $99. Single tickets are also for sale. All tickets can be purchased at ClassicStage or 212-352-3101(or toll free 866-811-411).
Running Time: 110 minutes no intermission