New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin"
Laura Pels Theater

It’s not about the Madoffs. Yet it is, in a general way, since the remote but compelling “The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin” is about capitalism, its ambitions and its sins.

Nor is it about only wealthy capitalists, either, although the get--rich-quick scheme that puts these characters in hot water required hefty investments. Its outline could just as easily fit impoverished Willy Loman in ”Death of a Salesman” as it can the eponymous, once successful anti-hero of Steven Levenson’s new play.

Tom Durnin, just returned from a five-year stint in jail for fraud, says he has no place to live and wants to crash with his 20-something son, James. Never mind that he’s ruined James’ life. The once-promising son had to leave Yale for lack of money and is now reduced to selling stethoscopes.

Never mind, too, that Tom’s former wife wants nothing to with him: he’s still desperate to contact her. Or that, knowing his daughter feels the same antipathy, he asks her husband, who works at the firm where Tom once did, to try to get him reinstated. Implied is an “or else,” as Tom makes vague threats about damaging information in his possession.

“I need my family,” says Tom. “Loyalty is a thing that actually means something.” Although he tries to ingratiate himself, Tom opened “a wound that will never go away.”

James gives into his father’s pleadings for shelter (but for one month only), remembering the good times they had. Seeking escape from his past, James has been taking a writing course at a local community college. There he meets quirky fellow student Katie who, like Tom, has been unlucky in relationships.

The idea of not being able to start over unless history is erased hangs over this misanthropic work. These are characters who deal with the past by either running away or trying to recreate it. The situation skirts tragedy but the characters don’t seem to learn anything, nor do we. Their faults lie not with outside forces but in themselves and those are only minimally explored.

As Tom, David Morse looms over everyone, both physically and psychologically. It’s a formidable performance. As James, Christopher Denham is a man defeated, a walking catatonic. Sarah Goldberg finds the humor in Katie, while Rich Sommer is wonderfully timorous as Chris, the son-in-law.

And then there’s the always brilliant Lisa Emery as bitter wife Karen. Whether coiled in her chair, waiting until ex-hubby Tom has finished his rant before striking, or forcing money on her reluctant son, Emery underscores everything with foreboding, a woman on the verge.

Gloomy is the word for Beowulf Boritt’s set and Donald Holder’s lighting design. Director Scott Ellis’s direction, like the play, both enervates and engrosses us in a tale about characters fighting not to give up on life.

--David A. Rosenberg
July 1, 2013

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