by Demetra M. Pappas
Some may go to see The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin because of the excellent reputation of the Roundabout; others may go to see the superior David Morse (who won the Drama Desk Award for his performance in Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, and has made a career out of playing the heavy since his emergence as a sweet doctor in St. Elsewhere, the machine that gave forth actors from Denzel Washington to television’s NCIS hero Mark Harmon to game/reality show king Howie Mandel). These are good reasons to go, and to be assured of excellence.
Steven Levenson, the young playwright whose words are spoken, whose gestures are enacted (under the excellent directorion of Scott Ellis, who should also have a credit for choreography) is the star of the show, or at least his words and use of language are. I say this notwithstanding the fact that Morse (as the eponymous character, just out of a five year prison term for white collar crime) and Christopher Denham (as Tom’s son James, who is variously manipulated by multiple characters, until he starts dishing back as good – or bad – as he gets, and who tries to find truth amidst the lies) perform a superb pas de deux, with excellent support by each of the other cast members. Levenson creates an ex-con who is unregenerate, remorseless and (at least insofar as his family and former colleagues are concerned) completely within the realm of recidivistic. Levenson allows the audience to have (the possibility of) empathy for Tom, even as his conniving efforts to immediately con James out of money that the son obviously does not have, coerce (indeed extort) his son-in-law and former law partner Chris (played with awkwardness tempered with fear by the excellent Rich Sommer) and demand reconciliation from his remarried ex-wife Karen (Lisa Emory), who tells James to call the police if Tom contacts him again, then is devastated by information Tom deliberately slips that I won’t disclose for fear of a spoiler alert. I found myself wanting to call out to the players, “don’t do it,” on several occasions (on one, another audience member of the usually staid attendees actually did so). I also found myself enthralled by Beowulf Boritt’s parallel staging of home and community college (signifying where James, a Yale dropout after the financial ruin, is trying to redeem himself in writing classes).
Tom is a bad guy, nuance though there may be. Early on, David Morse instructs his scrawny, divorce-scarred, dump-living son James to feel his bicep (and then talks about working out in prison). That said, Morse’s physical power and agility in simple acts such as springing up and spinning from a chair demonstrate even more than the implicitly threatening words. Surprisingly, both my companion and I found ourselves talking about this, even as we discussed the effects of the sociopathic man and the devastation he clearly wrote on all who took the stage (including James’ new girlfriend, Katie, played as a post-millennium ingénue by Sarah Goldberg) and those off-stage. If Bernie Madoff got out, this might be a (more erudite) version of family reunion, or more correctly, disunion.