Playwright August Strindberg was a master at taking experiences in his own life and adapting them to print. The author of plays, novels, and short stories, Strindberg has been credited with bringing “real life” into his stories, which are punctuated with dark humor and devious and sometimes vicious motivations. With good reason, DANCE OF DEATH is sometimes considered the precursor of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Conor McPherson’s new version keeps alive the vital heart of Strindberg’s drama.
Marriage, divorce, and children are three issues which Strindberg knew well. He was divorced three times, the first time losing custody of his four children to his wife and the last – to a young Norwegian actress – losing custody of his fifth child after a marriage than lasted barely four years. If these themes seem reminiscent of DANCE OF DEATH, then so be it.
DANCE OF DEATH follows the poisonous 25-year marriage of Edgar (Darrell Larson), a Captain in the Swedish Coast Artillery, and his younger wife Alice (Lizzy Kimball), an actress who feels that her marriage has become a trap. The two live on an isolated island – made the more isolated by their inability to communicate with each other or anyone else in their circle – in an old prison converted into their living quarters. As the two engage in a brutal series of duels, they seem to be living proof that love really is very close to hate. Alice’s only hope is that that the elderly Edgar, who suffers from a weak heart, might just die. And she would be happy to help him along.
Into the diabolical pit enters Alice’s cousin Kurt (Jeff LeBeau), who clearly has no idea what is going on between them. He doesn’t even seem to know that Edgar engineered his divorce years ago and persuaded the Courts to give custody of Kurt’s children to his wife. At the same time, Kurt has always had a soft spot for Alice, who isn’t above using that information to seduce the clueless Kurt. Just one more coal to add to the roaring inferno that they call home.
DANCE OF DEATH is an intense, powerful tale of two strong and complex people trapped together in a psychological spiral with no beginning and no end. Director Ron Sossi has a clear grasp of Strindberg’s message and brilliantly brings that message home with the aid of a very talented triad of actors. Scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo’s set makes visual the psychological vice in which the couple find themselves – an internal prison within an external prison. Chu-Hsuan Chang’s shadowy lighting and Christopher Moscatiello’s muffled sound add to the stifling atmosphere of this particular jail.
Marriage counselors should have a field day with DANCE OF DEATH as they ponder the question: “Is there a way to escape unharmed from this obviously tainted coupling? And yet somehow Strindberg has managed to laugh a little at himself. Maybe too much misery can turn the corner into a kind of black comedy.
DANCE OF DEATH runs through November 19, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets ranged from $25 to $34 (discounted tickets for seniors, students, and patrons under 30). The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. For information and reservations, call 310-477-2055 or go online.