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‘Dance of Death’ cackles with life

Published: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 12:39 p.m. CDT
A scene from “The Dance of Death” at Writers Theatre features (from left) Philip Earl Johnson, Larry Yando and Shannon Cochran.

GLENCOE – Seeing Conor McPherson’s impressive 2012 adaptation of Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s explosive play, “The Dance of Death,” prompts a search to find new synonyms to describe this ferociously gripping work.

Strindberg’s groundbreaking play, first staged in 1905, packs quite a wallop in its presentation at Writers Theatre under the expert direction of Henry Wishcamper.In his version, McPherson, a celebrated Irish playwright himself with “Port Authority,” “The Seafarer” and “Shining City” among his successes, highlights the play’s lyricism and ferocity mixed with caustic humor.Set in 1900, the taut story focuses on a couple living on an island near a port in Sweden and locked in a boisterous love-hate marriage for nearly 25 years.Edgar (Larry Yando), a sullen and obstreperous aged military captain and Alice (Shannon Cochran), his manipulative wife 15 years Edgar’s junior, share cramped quarters in a building that once functioned as a jail – good symbolism for their tempestuous relationship.Edgar’s irascible ways, stoked by heavy consumption of whiskey and a secretly growing fear of death, have managed to alienate him from his fellow officers and neighbors. He even got rid of their telephone because of prying ears, swapping it for a telegraph hookup.Isolated from friends, Alice blames her husband for cutting short dreams of stardom as career as an actress. No one visits, including their two unhappy teens who are away at school.The unexpected arrival after many years’ separation of Kurt (Philip Earl Johnson), Alice’s divorced cousin and long-time admirer, only adds sexual tension to the mix. As Alice tells Kurt: “Shy men like crude women, and crude women often like shy men.”Their visitor turns up the heat, stirring animosities and setting in motion a series of events that may – or may not – push the game-playing engaged in by Edgar and Alice over the edge.Inevitably, many have drawn parallels between George and Martha, the sparring partners in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, seeing them as descendants of Edgar and Alice in “The Dance of Death.”One would be hard-pressed to find a finer cast than Yando, Shannon and Johnson.


If you go . . .

What: “The Dance of Death”Where: Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., GlencoeWhen: Through July 20Tickets: $35-$70Show information: (847) 242-6000www.writerstheatre.org

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