The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    June 1, 2013

    This is an unsatisfying production that still packs a wallop. This is the story of what happens to a white-collar criminal after time has been served and the cameras have moved on to the next target. Tom Durnin (David Morse) has returned home after serving a five-year prison sentence. He has an idea that he might get his old life back. But because he personally tossed his old life into the trash heap five years ago, there is none of it left. And the people he tossed into the trash along with the details of that life are none too eager to welcome him home.

    The subject matter here is what is intriguing. And David Morse gives an extraordinary performance as a man who is regretful but still addicted to deception. Durnin is a deception addict, and prison did nothing to cure him.

    His son James (Christopher Denham) does not fare so well either in the telling or the performing. James is a one-note character that is so mournful and resentful (he dropped out of Yale and lost his wife) that he has almost stopped breathing. The one spark in his life, a writing class, does little to beef up his pulse. Even the presence of the fluttery fellow student Katie (Sarah Goldberg) hardly gets a rise out of him. His mother Karen (Lisa Emery) has moved on so far that she is happily remarried and enjoying life in a sort of uncomfortable way. She is wary of catastrophe after having lived through it. But the character who undergoes the change that matters is Durnin’s son-in-law Chris (Rich Somme). Chris is the only person willing to meet Durnin (albeit in an empty parking lot), and to listen while Durnin tries and fails to spin gold once again. When Chris finally refuses to do Durnin’s bidding, it is he who speaks the command, “Just disappear.”

    The unsatisfying part of the evening is the lack of color or nuance. We are not allowed more than a few seconds to see into Durnin in a moving scene with his son. The rest of the time he is a character who shoots himself in the foot over, and over, and over again. We are all fortunate that David Morse is an actor who will dig deep and forage for morsels in any corner he sees. His portrayal of Durnin is beautifully crafted, but the text can only be stretched so far.

    Between Levenson’s writing, the flat direction, and the absurdly cramped set by Beowulff Borrit (when James picks up a cereal bowl he has to leave it on a book shelf and stuff the napkin into a straw basket on the same shelf) we get the feeling not only of a man trapped, but of a character who is never allowed to stand up straight. Morse has little room to move on this set or in the story.

    I was in the company of three men at this play and each of them was moved. They were grateful to see a father-son relationship given so much airtime. And I agree with that point. Levenson brought up ideas and subjects that we rarely see on stage: kudos for that. Putting light on overlooked subject matter, however, is only the first step. In this case the next step, layers of development of both plot and character were never realized.

    I wanted to be interested in Durnin, but, like his family, I only ended up waiting for him to disappear.

    "Respectable but unavoidably downbeat new drama."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "Sensitive but dramatically inert."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "David Morse is as captivating as ever.., If only the show ... matched that performance."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Scott Ellis has staged the drama with a sure, churning build-up of suspense. “Tom Durnin” isn’t pleasant, but it is riveting theater."
    Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg

    "A thoughtful, passionately acted drama, sensitively directed by Scott Ellis."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "Scott Ellis' clean direction and the expert ensemble serve the material well, but its cumulative impact is unfortunately like the security was in Tom Durnin's white-collar prison: minimal."
    David Cote for Time Out New York

    "A gloomy domestic drama."
    MArilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Bloomberg - The Record - Time Out New York - Variety