The Dance of Death
Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Through November 19
August Strindberg’s 1900 tale about a monumentally unhappy marriage has been neatly touched up in this adaptation by Irish playwright Conor McPherson. As bleak as it is funny, it unfolds on an island fortress in Sweden that was once a prison (nicely rendered interior of gloomy faux brick, arched doorways and barred windows by designer Christopher Scott Murillo). There the beetle-browed Edgar (Darrell Larson), a hard-drinking unexceptional military man, and his much younger, self-absorbed wife, Alice (Lizzy Kimball), an equally unexceptional former actress, have spent the last 25 years at each other’s throats.
First seen seated in the parlor, they resemble desiccated wax figures rather than human beings. Their “long miserable mistake,” as she describes it at one point, is driven by bitterness, mutual hatred, lingering resentments, rage, and the inscrutable fact that they can’t end the agony by parting ways, much like the tramps in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Their empty, ritualized existence of card playing, piano music and pro-forma banter and bickering is suddenly interrupted when their old friend Kurt (Jeff LeBeau), shows up. While they initially put on airs of marital bliss, the ugly reality of discord is quickly unmasked, and Kurt’s visit gradually — and often humorously — morphs into a subtle and dangerous game of manipulation and seduction, with serious and potentially fatal consequences.
Edward Albee, and possibly Alan Ayckbourn, were likely influenced by this seldom produced work of Strindberg’s, and there is something eerily Beckettian about the final scene, where Edgar, seated motionless in his chair balefully intones, “you keep going.” There is much to enjoy in this production. The dialogue is sharp, humorous, and downright ugly at times, and the performances are quite good. Larson blends a pitiful vulnerability with bully swagger, while Kimball is very much the cunning lynx. The piece is nicely complemented by Chu-Hsuan Chang’s lighting.
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through November 19. (call box office for additional performance dates). (310) 477-2055 or Odysseytheatre.com. Running time: two hours with one 15-minute intermission.