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A CurtainUp Review

Play Strindberg
By Laura Hitchcock

Play Strindberg
Travis Michael Holder, Holly Jeanne and Joe Garcia (Photo: Bobbi Stamm)

"The great world is the same. Only the dimensions are different," snarls one of the protagonists in Friederick Durrenmatt's scathingly farcical adaptation of the marriage portrayed in Strindberg's Dance of Death. Durrenmatt has both pared down Strindberg's tragedy and broadened the frustrated fury of its battling spouses to make them a metaphor for his view of society.

Edgar, the Captain, who looks like a cross between Napoleon and Hitler, deludes himself that he is a military man with literary talents. His wife, Alice, retorts with her own adjusted memory of being a celebrated actress. They spar their illusions, insults and pains back and forth like tennis players from one side of the stage to the other in Hope Alexander's crisp brilliant staging. The sports metaphor is enhanced by the division of the action into the 12 rounds of a boxing match, each announced by the actors.

Alice's exits and entrances are always made with the sweeping gestures of a Victorian melodrama. Edgar, who disdains the neighbors on the provincial island where they live even while he avidly spies on them with binoculars, falls into trances triggered by a military salute. Alice takes advantage of these lapses to vent her rage at her barren life, calling Edgar, among other things, a despot with the soul of a slave.

One of Alexander's most stunning set pieces is Edgar's solo supper, in which he wallows in sipping and chewing with voluptuous sexuality. Joe Garcia does full justice to the fierce stubborn Edgar, rimming his wretchedness with sly humor. As Alice, Holly Jeanne is permanently on rage and sarcasm but at moments her face drops into expressions of childlike desperation and vulnerability.

Alice and Edgar's games and maneuvers play off their unexpected guest, Alice's cousin Kurt, whom Alice tries to seduce and Edgar tries to blackmail. This hapless apparently innocent bumbler turns out to be the greatest crook of them all. Travis Michael Holder never lets his guard down and the smugness of his final victory comes as a complete surprise.

Despite the change in Edgar's condition and the couple's efforts and struggles, the final scene of this marriage as mirror of our world, is downbeat. Nothing changes.

Durrenmatt's world view was most famously reflected in his bitter The Visit, in which a woman bribes an entire village to destroy the lover who jilted her. Here he finds the heightened sense of farce in the prison-like marriage, and underscores its isolation by setting it in a lighthouse on a distant island.

The music, most notably the haunting "Solveg's Song", was composed by Max Kinberg. Luke Moyer designed an understated period set. The whimsical costumes are credited to Esther Blodgett, (a name associated with A Star Is Born) who has somehow lived in all the same places as the fiercely imaginative Director Hope Alexander.

Playwright: Friedrich Durrenmatt, translated by James Kirkup
Director: Hope Alexander
Cast: Joe Garcia (Edgar), Holly Jeanne (Alice), Travis Michael Holder (Kurt).
Set & Lighting Design: Luke Moyer
Costume Design: Esther Blodgett
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: January 23-February 22, 2004
Where: The Company Rep, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, Ph: (818) 506-7550
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on January 31
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