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The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin – Review

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What is rehabilitation and is there such a thing as redemption? Can time served ever neutralize crimes committed? Can a life, interrupted by crime and punishment ever resume a recognizable form? Or is a prison term simply the beginning of the punishment? Steven Levenson’s The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin poses these questions with honest, powerful and very real results.

Tom Durnin (David Morse) appears at his son James’ (Christopher Denham) door after five years in prison. Tom is charming and smooth as he convinces his estranged son to temporarily house him. Father and son have much in common as they struggle (quite independent from one another) to get their lives back utilizing similar means. However, it is the wide chasm between them that dominates their relationship. They both grasp, with fits and starts at women to shape their lives. James meets the lovely, skittish Katie (Sarah Goldberg) at a creative writing class. Their attempt at courtship rings painfully true with equal parts endearment and frustration. Meanwhile Tom keeps his eye on the prize of seeing his ex-wife Karen (Lisa Emery). He cajoles, connives and threatens his son and his son-in-law Chris (Rich Sommer) for his ex’s whereabouts. He is unrelenting and there’s no doubt he will get his way. Chris endures much of the bewitching and terrifying negotiations of Tom. Chris is an easy and vulnerable target as he’s agreed to meet with Tom against his wife’s wishes. Tom’s got him, and courts and threatens him in pursuit of a job and his ex-wife.

Tom is charming and scary, and there is no better actor than Mr. Morse than to deftly and winningly play such a character. Tom’s explosions are not simply the result of rage, but are driven by a profound sadness and loss. In Mr. Morse’s hands these episodes send chills down the spine and tears to the eyes. He wants his life back. He’s done his time, he’s apologized and taken responsibility, but there’s no going back. His ex-wife has remarried, after enduring public humiliation and financial ruin. His daughter and her children are lost to him. And it’s not clear if he will ever be reinstated to the bar and move on from his barrista job. In less deft hands, the play might verge on cloying or even twee. But there is no slipping into sentimentality and these characters are fully formed (and beautifully performed.) No one is a villain or a hero; there are no right or easy answers only varying shades of grey. Directed by Scott Ellis, the production is delicately balanced. The fluid staging and the honest performances are the perfect match to the script. The ending is the finest example of Mr. Levenson’s restraint. Everything is poised for a satisfying and definitive conclusion, but instead it all stays very real making it all that much more moving.

The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durning is playing at the Roundabout Theatre

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2013 in Theatre

 

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Look Back In Anger – Review

Look Back In Anger was written by John Osborne in 1957.  It was considered the first of the anti-drawing room plays and introduced to the stage the “angry young man.”  Fifty five years later, he is still quite angry. The play has been produced recently at home (London) and abroad, it has also been made into a film.  This Roundabout Theatre production directed by Sam Gold is a four character interpretation of the play.

Jimmy (Matthew Rhys) a working class university graduate is married to Alison (Sarah Goldberg) the daughter of a colonel.  Jimmy runs a sweets stall with Cliff (Adam Driver) who also lives with the couple.  Later they are joined by Alison’s actress friend from childhood, Helena (Charlotte Parry.)  The fifth character, the most prominent of players, is the set.  The stage at the Laura Pels is reduced to a depth of six feet.  It is the bleakest and filthiest of sets you are likely to ever see.  Dishes, laundry, trash, and food litter the floor and a stained mattress is propped in a corner.  The filth only grows as the play progresses.  The (relatively) tiny stage and the use of a lit “offstage” work to reinforce the utter claustrophobia of the characters’ lives.  Having the actors sit on the aisle (on the edge of the audience) is not distracting but it also does not add anything.  It is just one device that is employed to add elements of realness and rawness to this production.

Jimmy is a character you have seen portrayed often.  He is filled with self-loathing and expresses it through verbal abuse and absolute derision for those he loves.  He is above all else, a victim.  His regal looking wife Alison spends much of the first act in an open dressing gown, half-slip and bra.  She dutifully irons her husband’s underwear as he hurtles insults her way.  To avoid boredom, Jimmy also goes after Cliff, often physically.  While these goings on are certainly tedious, the performances are riveting.  The actors are so thoroughly immersed in their characters it is impossible to remember their past performances (of which I’ve seen several.)  There is a comfort with their characters which is rarely seen.  This is a very physical play, with much wrestling (fight direction by Thomas Schall) in a very small space.  Not once, did any of the tousling look staged.  There is also much silliness, mostly in the form of animal imitations, which would look forced and moderately humiliating in lesser hands.

Helena arrives later in the play, looking groomed and radiant and reminding us that not everyone lives amidst such squalor.  Discovering the way in which her friend is living and taking into consideration Alison’s yet to be announced pregnancy, she arranges to send Alison back to her family.  I have to admit that I did not see that coming.  I wasn’t necessarily hoping for Alison to stay with Jimmy, I’m just not sure of her motivation to leave.  Needless to say, Helena and Jimmy start up an affair.  I say “needless to say” from a theatrical perspective, not a psychological one.  It’s not clear what either of these women see in Jimmy.  Now if they had fallen for his friend Cliff, I could understand.  Cliff is the only sympathetic character around.  He is loving and filled with an inexplicable optimism.

The house lights are used throughout the production to create mood, or anti-mood as the case may be.  Both acts begin with full house lights.  There are several minutes of silent action that occur fully lit.  The effect is lost on an audience who would rather talk amongst themselves.  Call it Pavlovian, but the full house simply would not silence until they were plunged into darkness.  Their talking was actually less distracting than was my empathy for actors being ignored.  The curtain-less (does anyone use curtains anymore?) six foot deep stage feels like a thrust, and the fully lit “wings” add to the intimacy.  I found so much full lighting and lack of “off-stage” just a wee bit distracting.  The acting really speaks for itself here.

The staging itself is beautiful, as is the acting, but the play simply left me cold.  While Cliff is a most sympathetic character, nothing much happens to him.  As the play came to a close, the previously excruciatingly well behaved woman seated next to me started to rustle in her purse.  I could not discern what in the world she would be doing, until she brought a tissue to her nose.  “Oh,” I thought, “she has a cold.”  No.  She was crying.  Did something sad happen?  Now, I am not made of stone.  I have been known to well up over curtain calls.  But I found nothing particularly moving about these characters, or their lives.  I had a bit of trouble believing that anyone would actually make a salad while sitting on the floor and toss the unused bits around the floor.  If the play was making the leap into surrealism, I would have been fine.  But clearly the claim to fame for this particular play and production is its realism.  However, I would see it again for the performances alone.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Theatre

 

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