A Noise Within’s revival of The Dance of Death, August Strindberg’s unsparing, 1901 depiction of marriage as a connubial knife fight, comes as a scabrously funny reminder of the debt owed the Swedish dramatist by the last century’s playwrights.
Because in the still-startling ferocity of its language (freshened by Conor McPherson’s streamlined 2012 adaptation) and the malignancy of its relationships, The Dance of Death packs a proto-Beckettian blend of comically grotesque bathos and absurdity that echoes throughout the modern canon, perhaps most explicitly in Edward Albee's homage Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
As in Albee, Edgar (Geoff Elliott), an aging, alcoholic military officer, and his embittered ex-actress wife, Alice (Susan Angelo), while away Edgar’s dead-end posting to a provincial garrison in a stalemate of mutual contempt. Their deadlock is broken by the arrival of Alice’s cousin Kurt (Eric Curtis Johnson), who quickly becomes the main course in a splenetic feeding frenzy of callous emotional manipulation and sexual betrayal.
Johnson’s straight-man transit from vulnerability to full psychic fracture proves an effective springboard for Angelo and Elliott to reach the play’s grim register of mordant comedy. With a more rigorously anchored staging, directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott might also have sharpened those laughs with a keener edge of Strindbergian despair.
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A Noise Within, 3352 E Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; through Nov. 22. (626) 356-3100, anoisewithin.org.
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