By Marcina Zaccaria
A figure of a man is cast across the stage in a large shadow. His head, his heart, and his soul can no longer compete. Though raised in a glorious military landscape, we see that he is poised and ready for destruction.
Bold images like these make us appreciate Victoria Clark interpretation of August Strindberg’s Dance of Death. Over one hour and fifty five minutes, a card game seems to be the only diversion in a difficult, broody marriage. Alice, portrayed by Cassie Beck, (Broadway: The Humans, Picnic), first appears entirely self-loving. A graceful dancer, who fancies herself similar to the painting above her, she is prepared to glide through any catastrophe of marriage. As the play unravels, she slowly develops contempt for her husband. The average feats of his military triumphs and losses complicate the psychology of Captain, portrayed by Richard Topol (Broadway: Indecent, The Normal Heart). Edgar relies on his massive bank account, his drink, and his own physician in the center of town, he is a proud, contentious figure.
Trapped in loveless marriage, Alice reaches to her cousin, Kurt, played by Christopher Innvar (Broadway: The Snow Geese, Porgy and Bess). His admiration for his cousin crosses bounds in the second half of the show. Kurt, having been in America, also has lost custody of his children. Questions loom. Alice and Kurt eventually team against the Captain, plotting for action to be taken against him.
Later, we’ll find the Captain dazed, almost frozen in space; it is noted that his brush with death might persist again. Alice, almost vicious, wishes for his dying day to arrive. However, the Captain persists. Bow-legged and faint, he endures his treatment of morphine. Plagued with a cough and awful spells of dizziness and blank inattention, he becomes a differently empathetic figure. Alice, who previously appeared to be only pithy and a bit bored, becomes almost ruthless, without the capacity to tolerate him or what might be a very typical malady, found in the early 1900s.
Alice escapes through music, and her invisible piano fails to wake the Captain. Strindberg’s story lives here, in this moment. Evocative sound design becomes a frame for dramatic action. There’s a slight bit of yellow, creeping through a minimal set, suggesting a seashore home. Breezy round curtains above create a light, ephemeral space. Scathing language is delivered with unnerving smiles on Alice and the Captain’s faces, in the new version by Conor McPherson. It’s as though a secret, inside of Alice and Edgar, produces levity in an otherwise chilly environment. Pass after pass, the hidden bit of humor gives way to surprise, making Dance of Death a fascinating watch.
Photos: Joan Marcus
Dance of Death is running in repertory with Mies Julie, at Classic Stage Company, located at 136 E 13th Street in NYC. It will be running until March 10.