January 30, 2004





The sweet science of marital satire


By Rob Kendt

Special to The Times


Friedrich Durrenmatt's hilariously caustic reduction of the impassioned, often lyrical marital tragedy "Dance of Death" could more accurately be titled "Play Against Strindberg."


By excising peripheral characters, trimming or sharpening dialogue, and subverting key plot points, Durrenmatt's free adaptation mercilessly skewers the brooding Scandinavian temperament of early 20th century drama.


Dismissing Strindberg's "literary side" as "plush to the nth degree," Durrenmatt, the author of such bleak mid-century classics as "The Visit" and "The Pledge," effectively torches the furniture and sandblasts the veneer from this bourgeois parlor; he even sets his version in a metaphorical boxing ring and divides it into 12 rounds.


It's gratifying to report, then, that director Hope Alexander's smart, sleek new production is a knockout.


Providing most of the show's formidable fighting weight is Joe Garcia as a vain, ridiculous army Captain confined, as if in an elaborate punishment, to an island tower with his embittered wife, a former actress of dubious talents (Holly Jeanne).


The impish Garcia is the kind of mercurial comic powerhouse who has the audience safely in his hands the moment he enters--but he uses this privilege judiciously, with a prankster's precision. This is true even when he's drilling for crude, as in a gut-busting solo aria of gluttonous gorging in which the food might as well be scenery.


The zaftig Jeanne serves up strong, droll support, while Travis Michael Holder, as a visiting cousin with foggy motives, walks an ambivalent, mostly reactive line with flustered aplomb. But this is Garcia's show to walk away with, and so he does, mischeivously and irresistibly.


Durrenmatt's acerbic, quick-witted satire of marital and social aspiration could hardly be in better hands than Garcia's, or Alexander's. Their gloves are off.


"Play Strindberg," Company Rep at Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Feb. 22. $20-22.50. (818) 506-7550. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.