The Dance of Death

By August Strindberg

Dance-of-Death-FINAL---Crop
The Dance of Death

in a new version by Conor McPherson

Directed by Henry Wishcamper

At the Writers Theatre in the bookstore on Vernon

Absolutely fabulous acting makes for great theatre

What a combination – August Strinberg in a new version by Conor MaPherson with three “A” list Equity actors presented in a intimate stage at Writers Theatre’s Vernon Bookstore. Before Edward Albee created the bickering game players George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf, August Strindberg created a Edgar and Alice who deal with their isolation through a vicious and venomous  game of insults, intrigue and innuendo. Fueled by Conor  McPherson’s new version of  The Dance of Death containing sharper biting humor and razor-sharp ferocity, director Henry Wishcamper allows the three players to unleash deep emotions and explosive verbal assaults that we can see the rich love/hate in the eyes of these skilled actors.

the dance of death

As Edgar, Larry Yando is at the top of his art as the bitter tyrannical army captain isolated on an army garrison on an Swedish island. His equal in mortal marriage conflict, Alice, played with equal intensity as Yando,  is Shannon Cochran. These two trade quips, barbs and insults in a no holds barred game of intimidation that is both intensely interesting and totally witty dark comedy. We move back and forth first with Alice then begrudging with Edgar. Both lash out at their fellow soldiers and their families since the cynical captain and his nasty wife are persona non grata in Swedish Army society.

Edgar and Alice have played their love/hate game for their entire almost 25 year marriage. We never really understand if they truly love on another to if all the animosity between them comes from hate or simply a sophisticated game to keep life interesting for both of these bored folks? As the games escalate, Edgar passes out several time as he apparently is having strokes or is he? Edgar is sickly and dying, or is he? Alice schemes to destroy and/or leave Edgar since she has been suffering his nastiness for too long, or is she?

dance of death

Their game moves into another level upon the arrival of Kurt (the terrific Phlip Earl Johnson), the couples’ old friend who has not been with them for 16 years as he migrated to America. As he is thrust into the games, we learn about his entanglement from both Edgar and Alice. We also witness the ferocious lush from Kurt toward Alice.

The surprises and twists in this two hour wicked game are played out with such excellence by all three actors that The Dance of Death becomes a major triumph. You’d be hard pressed to see better acting and a finer set design than Kevin Depinet’s authentic 1900 former prison set. Conor McPherson’s version of Strindberg’s play rings stronger with his dark humor and cynical dialogue deliver with Yando’s intensity matched by Cochran’s fury. Johnson’s skillful change ot emotions from level-headed to explosively sensual is shocking and quite effective.

The Dance of the Dead is an enticingly powerful drama/dark comedy filled with characters so contradictory that we never are quite sure who to cheer for as we sit on the edge of our seats wondering what will happen next. The physicality of some action highlights the emotionally charged gamesmanship. This Writers Theatre gem is among the strongest plays seen in the Chicagoland Area in many a moon. The acting will impress you.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: April 16, 2104

For more info checkout The Dance of Death at theatreinchicago.com

At Writers Theatre Books on Vernon book store, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe, IL call 847-242-6000, www.writerstheatre.org, tickets $35 – $70, Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 6 pm, matinees on Wednesdays & Sundays at 2 pm , Saturday matinees at 4 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through July 20, 2014