When I bought a ticket to see The Dance of Death at Classic Stage Company, I didn't realize the date I had picked was Ash Wednesday. Had I thought about it, though, could there have been a better play to see for the beginning of a period of reflection on sin and mortality?
August Strindberg wrote Dance of Death in September of 1900, penning a sequel two months later. It is Dance of Death Part I that is most interesting dramatically, though, and it is that play that Conor McPherson adapted for Trafalgar Studios in London in 2012, and that is being revived now by CSC.
McPherson's adaptation cuts the cast down to three, eliminating the maid Jenny, the sentry who paces back and forth outside, and my favorite part, the mysterious old woman who appears out of nowhere. None of these characters are strictly necessary for the plot, but that's precisely why I love them. The old woman who appears when the doors are blown open is mysterious, but the mystery is never resolved, and it doesn't need to be.
In the end, Dance of Death is a mystery story without a solution. The Captain, played in this production by Richard Topol, is unhappily married to a former actress named Alice, played by Cassie Beck. They are preparing to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary but hate each other bitterly. Into this house of scorn and contempt comes Kurt, a cousin of Alice played by Christopher Innvar. Much like another role Innvar has played, Albany in King Lear, Kurt is a well-intentioned man who is way out of his league when he pairs himself up with a ruthless woman.
And Alice is certainly ruthless! The scene where she makes Kurt bow before her and kiss her shoe is priceless. What is more, you're guaranteed to get a seat with a good view of that moment. CSC is putting the play on in the round, and director Victoria Clark has staged it so everyone in the intimate space can see, unlike some other directors I could name.