JWR Articles: Live Event - The Dance of Death (Director: Margarita Mladenova) - April 16, 2008

The Dance of Death

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The saddest couple in the world

Domestic violence—of mostly the psychological variety—comes under August Strindberg’s unwavering microscope in a ninety-minute wonder that had one audience member remarking, “So glad I’m not married,” as the full house left the theatre—many patrons with their partners (permanent or “on the side”) and perhaps internally reflecting on the current degrees of honesty in their own relationships.

As if on cue, (kudos to the organizers of the International Theatre Critics Association—whether coincidental or not, the evening fare thus far has effectively illustrated the subject-du-jour as over 100 writers from around the globe wrestle with all manner of violence that spills out of our scripts and onto the stage) the afternoon’s discourse morphed into flesh, bones and, yes!, a scene-stealing cat, which had an uncomfortable moment that might have become a terrible symbol of the death of pussy.

Edgar (Vladimir Penev, ideally cast as the burly isolationist) and Alice (Svetlana Yancheva, a master of hysteria) are first seen arguing in bed—fully clothed in Cossack-style matching gowns. Bickering over their poor taste in music immediately establishes the quarrelsome, petty nature of their near quarter-century marriage.

Living on an island, the husband (still just a captain—often chided by his better half that he should be a major by now) espouses how he is above everyone; so being ostracized from the nearby doctor’s upscale party and abandoned by his children and the two maids (imagine leaving service without receiving wages for six months!) is a social burden he’s proud to carry: the rabble (a.k.a. the rest of the planet) is not worthy of him. Quasi-musician wife (the French horn is marvellously employed as the on-stage musical foil to the Prokofiev-like (Romeo and Juliet) rumblings that provide most of the remaining underscoring.

After a routine to her, unexpected to the bedroom voyeurs crotch grab by the self-made loner, an out-of-the-sack entertainment is immediately suggested (“Let’s play cards!”).

That imperative sets in motion director/adapter Margarita Mladenova’s most inspired piece of staging: the fast-paced hands (only outrun by the rapid-fire dialogue that often defeated the Surtitle-sync and occasionally the actors) wordlessly thump down on the table—the fairer sex trumping her nooky-deprived (later depraved) mate as surely as their penny pot remains empty.

Once that score had been settled, the possibility (and in itself another game) of the potential re-emergence of the long-lost matchmaker (and Alice’s cousin), Kurt (Tsvetan Alexiev, sly and rash as required) can be raised.

From his first entrance, the play moves up a notch in sexual and dramatic intensity, even as it becomes a matter of life and death (Edgar collapses, much to Alice’s glee—she can’t wait to dance on his lonely grave). Confronted with his mortality, Edgar makes his houseguest promise to care for his children (curiously, the court has made sure that Kurt’s own offspring are in the safety of others) and pines for a farewell with his long-gone daughter (“I want to see Julia.”).

Unfortunately for Alice, the death notices are premature and the born-again captain goes back to his post, affording the frustrated widow-in-waiting the chance to reminisce about dalliances past and contemplate a fresh romp into “the barrel of shit” with her long-absent relative.

Edgar returns and the married couple resume their hate/hate relationship even as the third wheel blows his brass horn (and with a credible tone and practiced embouchure).

The need for both a notary (the will) and a doctor rages; relatively—given the voraciousness of the argumentative pair, making Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf seem like a debating society. Things heat up to a point where the images of monks setting themselves afire to make their voices heard are kindled on stage.

Incredibly, a thick fog rolls in, but perhaps its source was laughing gas, for the silver-anniversary couple find themselves back in bed, only to laugh up a storm and profess their love. Happy ending? or Two for the Cuckoo’s Nest? JWR

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