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BWW Review: Victoria Clark Directs Conor McPherson's Adaptation of August Strindberg's THE DANCE OF DEATH


"You take a mackerel, grill it, drizzle a little lemon on it, serve it up with a huge glass of white zinfandel, and one doesn't feel quite like blowing one's brains out anymore, does one?" observes a husband when considering the prospect of another evening's dinner with his wife of nearly twenty-five years.

The Dance of Death
Cassie Beck and Richard Topol
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

"You're asking the wrong person," is her droll reply.

The irreconcilable differences that can turn love stories into scarring verbal duels has been popularized in both highbrow drama (Edward Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf?) and lowbrow comedy (TV's "Married... With Children"). Conor McPherson's adaptation of August Strindberg's 1900 darkly comic drama The Dance of Death, effectively falls in between, accenting the mannered language of over a hundred years ago with flippant moments of contemporary vernacular.

"And soon it will be all over. We'll be dead, and all that's left is your rotten carcass. And all it's good for is to fertilize the cabbages."

"So we go through all of this just for the sake of the cabbages?"

"Listen, I don't make the rules."

The granite fortress tower setting provided by designer David L. Arsenault is represented by a small, oval-shaped floor surrounded by the audience on four sides. There are minimal furnishings and piano playing, integral to the plot, is mimed.

This is the island enclosure where artillery captain Edgar (Richard Topol) is stationed, living with his somewhat younger wife, Alice (Cassie Beck), a retired actor. It's suggested that his disagreeable personality is the reason he was sent to this isolated location, much to the chagrin of his social butterfly spouse. Estranged from their children, they live a lonely bitter existence. He, suffering with heart disease, requires her presence as a caretaker and she is tied to him by laws that restrict the rights of women.

Their only marital pleasure seems to come when she plays piano for him to perform an eccentric dance. She hopes the physical exertion might kill him before he makes good on his threats to write her out of his will.

The Dance of Death
Christopher Innvar and Cassie Beck
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The third character in the piece is Alice's cousin, and former lover, Kurt (Christopher Innvar), a military man who has arrived in his new position as Master of Quarantine. There is lingering animosity between Kurt and Edgar, concerning the latter's involvement in the former's divorce, and well as lingering passion between the cousins. It gets a little kinky. ("Oh Alice, my God, I want to bite your throat and rip all your blood out like a wolf.")

While The Dance of Death is certainly not the strongest of Strindberg's plays, its vision of a storybook marriage gone sour remains relatable, and, from a distance, perversely entertaining.

This production plays in repertory with director Shariffa Ali's mounting of Yael Farber's Strindberg adaptation, MIES JULIE.

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