Corner of Rose and Bundy: ‘Dance of Death’ at The Odyssey

When a grim year gets grimmer with no end in sight,  those down-in-the-mouth over the decaying state of things can look to the arts for a pick-me-up.  Pinter, Beckett, Kane… all can offer a glimmer of hope of a better world than our present one.  Add Strindberg to this list and visit ‘Dance of Death’ now at The Odyssey in West L.A. until 19 November.   Empty nesters Alice and Edgar live in isolation on a small, unnamed Scandinavian island awaiting their silver  wedding anniversary.  He is a minor military man, detesting all and detested by all in return.  She is much younger, having given up a go-nowhere acting career to marry him.   Two children and a life together did nothing to brighten twenty-five years of unrelenting mutual hatred.

Conor McPherson‘s 2012 adaptation reduces Strindberg’s original cast to three and a chess match begins immediately.  Aging, ailing Edgar (Darrell Larson) and youthful, seething Alice (Lizzy Kimball) aren’t grandmasters but two nonetheless very effective opponents who know each other’s tactics and always have a nasty countermove at the ready.  The relentless, active stalemate needs a stimulus and into this domestic prison – their house used to be one – drops her cousin Kurt (Jeff LeBeau).  This poor sap  brought the two together under duress in the distant past and becomes both a means to and an object of revenge, played for savagery and for keeps.

Edgar takes the chaotic route – alternately hale and sickly, a dancing Boyar one moment and bedridden  the next.  Alice is consistent, methodical, focussed.  Kurt comes into this house of heartbreak composed and kind and later  finds that both have and continue to conspire to his ruin.  Ron Sossi’s brisk and mostly effective staging mines ores of deep, dark, Vantablack humor in the otherwise bleak script. Christopher Scott Murillo’s set, simultaneously spacious and claustrophobic,  frames intrinsic contrasts of the story.   Despite some residual signs of jelling, the audience is slowly pulled in, supporting and sympathizing with whichever character holds the floor at the moment.  We, like Kurt, are played like a cigar-box banjo.

This is the play said to have inspired Albee’s George and Martha.  One wonders if it similarly inspired the creators of ‘Married With Children’ and the ‘War of the Roses.’  Al and Peg, and Oliver and Barbara equally delight in childish games of control expressed  vividly and physically.  Divorce is obvious and available but far too easy.  Neither wants the other to be free, let alone happy, and all bystanders are in play.   This is of  course not limited to  fiction.  The arts  teach us much including that there’s usually something lurking under even the most banal situation.  There’s usually some benefit to being aware of it if not for advancement at least for self-preservation.  ‘Go placidly amid the noise and waste’ says Deteriorata, ‘And remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof.’  As such ‘Dance’ does double duty.  Fine entertainment on its surface and instruction between the lines.

Dance of Death
by August Strindberg, adapted by Conor McPherson
directed by Ron Sossi
The Odyssey Theatre

Regular Performances
September 23 – November 19
Visit the show webpage for dates and times

Online tickets through Ovationtix
or via the Box Office 310-477-2055 EXT. 2

Box Office Hours
Wed/Thurs – 1pm – 6pm or curtain
Fri/Sat – 1pm – 8pm
Sunday – 12pm – 4pm

 

9 comments

  1. I read your review and found it very well written and interesting! But as you say, in such a ‘grim year’ I find the prospect of watching this particular subject matter a bit depressing, if I may say so. I remember reading Ibsen’s The Doll House many years ago and marveled at how people can live in a marriage of such misery. As one gets older, one understands the complexity of life and how things aren’t black and white. But still…the idea of sharing space with someone you don’t truly adore and love has got to be one of the greatest miseries of all. Your review was so good that I almost wanted to see this play (and for someone who is a fan of love stories) that is saying something, so I had to leave a comment for the writer thanking them for the excellent review!

    1. Thanks for the nice note. It is worth a visit – you can laugh amid the horror and take solace in knowing that at least you are not those people!

      1. Thanks for the lovely reply :), I was hoping to find something that had depth but that could also be uplifting. This year, of all years, it feels like the public discourse is so dark and I find myself wanting to watch something that makes me think but also leaves me feeling hopeful and inspired. I briefly perused your blog, it is intriguing and unexpected for someone reviewing plays but since you seem to have an interest in space/physics, perhaps you have seen Star Trek the Next Generation? It is my favorite TV show from high school and I loved its exploration of humanity, it always reaffirmed my belief that humanity was essentially good and we were headed in the right direction. I find entertainment created with that level of intelligence but also kindness, harder to come by. Profundity with a dash of happiness and optimism, I am asking for too much maybe?….

        1. I think that’s quite a reasonable hope for an evening of theatre. I liked ST:TNG immensely but think we’re in the darker Deep Space Nine world for a while. In the meantime, here are some companies that often (but not always) do the kind of work you’ve described. A Noise Within and The Boston Court in Pasadena, Sacred Fools in Hollywood, International City Theatre in Long Beach, Fountain Theatre on Melrose, 24th Street Theatre near USC, Independent Shakespeare in Atwater Village, Greenway Court Theatre in the Fairfax District, and the Los Angeles Theatre Center downtown. I’m probably leaving out a lot of others. One or more of them may have something up that you’d like to see.

          1. Thank you, that is an amazing list! I just went through them and two that seem fascinating are ‘Letters from Home’ by the Independent Shakespeare Company and ‘The House on Mango Street’ at the Greenway Court Theatre. Thank you so much for your graciousness and taking the time to write such a comprehensive list. I couldn’t find anything that seemed interesting, now I have two options thanks to you. 🙂 Much appreciated Ravi, it was wonderful to interact with you, I hope you have a wonderful week ahead!

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