Theater review by David Cote. The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin. Laura Pels Theatre (see Off Broadway). By Steven Levenson. Directed by Scott Ellis. With David Morse, Christopher Denham. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.
The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin: plot synopsis
David Morse plays a white-collar criminal trying to reconnect with his family after serving time in prison in the premiere of a drama by Steven Levenson (The Language of Trees). Scott Ellis directs a cast that also includes Christopher Denham and Sarah Goldberg.
The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin: Theater review
The title of Steven Levenson’s new play for the Roundabout is on the vague side, so let me spell it out: The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin is about a father released after five years in jail for financial fraud, and the family members with whom he tries to reconnect. Circumlocution is apt, though: No one in the story is ready to face the crime and its aftermath head on—especially the disgraced patriarch himself.
Levenson relies on mostly two-person scenes: Tom (Morse) and his emotionally scarred son, James (Denham); James and Katie (Sarah Goldberg), a woman in his writing class he starts dating; James and Karen (Lisa Emery), his mother, who
has remarried; and Tom and Chris (Rich Sommer), Tom’s compromised son-in-law. Certainly, the duet is a time-tested dramatic building block, but used too predictably and repetitively (recently, for example, in Reasons to Be Happy and Harper Regan), it feels lazy or tedious. So when Tom, James and Karen are briefly reunited, the electricity in the room is palpable.
That’s also due to the terrific Morse, who builds a compelling portrait of pride, guilt, self-delusion and desperation, along with a hint of physical menace. Strapping and intimidating even when he’s being genial, Morse’s Tom is the engine of the piece. Sadly, there’s not much gas in the vehicle. Levenson’s dialogue is lean, dynamic and flows naturally; for a while, it hides the fact that Tom Durnin is all premise and no motion. The healing—or at least the ripping open of old wounds—takes a mighty long time. Scott Ellis’s clean direction and a strong ensemble serve the material well, but its satisfactions are like the security in Tom Durnin’s erstwhile prison: minimal.—Theater review by David Cote
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote
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Electrifying performances - David Morse and Rich Sumner are particularly strong. Levenson is a master of dialog. The text does a great job moving seamlessly from endearingly awkward and humorous exchanges to explosions of powerful emotion (particularly from Morse). The closing monologue had more than a few audience members in tears. Certain scenes drag a bit and some of the exposition feels unnecessary. But overall, a good night of theater.
Fine performances for a terrible, overly talky and boring play—even when you could hear dialogue clearly. Actors' projection barely reached the last 8-10 rows. First time ever to request an audio support device for however long they've been used. The producers and director should try sitting where half the audience does when they oversee the rehearsals!