Through September 10
THE DANCE OF DEATH Studio Theatre/Shaw Festival!
You can count on a few things from the Swedish playwright, depressing story, fantastic characters and social issues.
Using a new version from Conor McPherson, the Shaw Festival is staging his “The Dance of Death,” a tale of an aging soldier fearing death and hating his wife on a military island on the Swedish coast.
You may remember McPherson for his “The Seafarer” which was produced by the New Phoenix Theatre, eight years ago.
Edgar (Jim Mezon) can’t get promoted and is slowly drinking himself to death, in a race with what seems to be a bad heart and some kind of seizure disorder.
Wife Alice (Fiona Reid) thinks her life is over because his isn’t.
They live in what used to be the island’s jail, a couple floors above the gallows chamber and under guard from the sentry who constantly patrols the balcony high above the water.
The show has some fine sound work from James Smith.
Jim Mezon has long had a deserved reputation as a hammy actor, although Director Martha Henry seems to control him here, mostly.
What’s unusual is Patrick Galligan’s Kurt, an old friend of the family and especially of Alice.
He’s been in America for years and apparently made a lot of money and has been brought back to open a cholera quarantine station on the island, with many details probably excised by McPherson in putting this script together.
Galligan is usually a very controlled actor telling his story in the small gestures, the facial movement, the body language.
Here, it’s a race with Mezon to chew the rug, as Kurt complains about the loss of his wife and children in court all those years before.
Now, he’s putting the moves on Alice, as she wants to leave Edgar behind because it’s too much, too long and it isn’t clear any longer that he will die.
This is all very depressing, three depressed and depressive people howling at the moon of life which never seems to set.
What makes this play interesting is the twisting and turning nature of the script, leaving you constantly unaware of what’s happening and where it will go and what the characters will do.
That doesn’t mean you will like them, just that the surprising twists keep you interested, even as the depression deepens.
In the end, you are worn and the characters are pretty much where they were when this all started, with the sentry (Landon Doak) still marching back and forth along the balcony overlooking the sea.
The roles make you understand why actors love Strindberg and why so many audiences hate him, even in a strong translation and adapted script.
You will remember this for Mezon’s work in Edgar’s seizures and Galligan’s dreams for himself and Alice if Edgar really is dying.
Reid is very strong as the wife in this menage on the coast.
“The Dance of Death” may make you want to rush to the closest bar to the Festival Theatre, even though drinking is supposed to deepen depression.
It would be hard to be more depressed than this.
Henry does a nice job of directing the show and has a strong set from William Schmuck, good lighting from Louise Guinand and sound from James Smith, especially as Edgar pitches apartment contents into the sea.
“The Dance of Death” is a little bit like punching some theatrical time card, showing you have seen one of Strindberg’s plays.
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