It has been said Alice (Shannon Cochran) and Edgar (Larry Yando), the backbiting couple in The Dance of Death, provided the inspiration for George and Martha of Who’s Afraid of a Virginia Wolf. The “innocent” Kurt (Phillip Earl Johnson), the hapless dupe ensnared by them, is, more or less, collateral damage. I not only agree, I can’t decide which couple is the most dysfunctional.
The Dance of Death is an intensely troubling play to watch. And yet, as gripping an experience as it is, you can hardly take your eyes off it. Is this a case of artsy gaper’s gawk or is there a compelling, overarching compulsion/revulsion reflex here that mesmerizes us? If that were all, it would not have enjoyed the enduring success the play enjoys today.
The quality of this Writers Theatre remarkably fine production makes this play fascinating, intriguing and, yes, beautiful:
In his Writers Theatre debut, Director, Henry Wishcamper, Resident Artistic Associate at Goodman Theatre, has an impressive list of outstanding productions. Here’s how he put his stamp on this one:
The Designers: the Sense of Place
Writers Theatre draws on the power of its intimate venue and capitalizes on it to completely involve the audience. For us, this meant that we were so close to the actors, it wasn’t as though we were there we were there. There we sat in that old stone room that had once been a jail (and if you ask me still was!) with a couple about to “celebrate” their 25th wedding anniversary! Not a detail was missed—there were even chains hanging from the walls.
Here’s how Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet created a “cozy” evening at home with Alice and Edgar:
Rachel Laritz’s down-to-the-tiniest-detail period costumes including a comic military dress uniform.
Keith Parham’s shadowy lighting from a “candle”-lier.
Josh Schmidt’s Sound Design including the tap, tap, tap of their home telegraph, their only connection with the outside world.
Julie Eberhart’s Properties Design right down to the “intercom” to call the servants who won’t come.
The Choreographers: the Sense of the Title
David Woolley's Fight Direction: Venomous, ruthless insults countered by passionate but ferocious ardor almost made my jaw drop.
Tommy Rapley’s Choreography gave ironic lilt and lift to Edgar’s (Yando) diabolical/whimsical military dance, “Entry March of the Boyars.”
The Cast: A “Cozy” Evening with Alice and Edgar?
Not if Shannon Cochran, Phillip Earl Johnson, and Larry Yando have anything to do with it! You could cut the animosity with a knife… or a sword. Or could you? Did Alice and Edgar really hate one another? Was Alice going to leap at her chance to get out? What about Kurt? Was he an old flame or just a way to torment Edgar?
THE DANCE OF DEATH is an emotional roller coaster ride without a winner or loser. It has the power to transport you to a different emotional time and place. Don’t miss this mesmerizing evening of theater. Visit the Writers Theatre website for a wealth of background information, offers and reservations.
Photos: Michael Brosilow