There was Bernie Madoff. The Unavoidable Disappearance of TOM DURNIN is not a play about Bernie Madoff. It is a compelling new work by Steven Levenson about a similar man in a similar situation, Tom Durnin (a superb David Morse) who is a charming crook and master manipulator who has just spent the last five years in jail for a white-collar crime involving the financial ruin of friends and family, including himself. He knows all the right buttons to push and how hard to push them.
Tom Durnin arrives unannounced to the ramshackle home of his son James (an excellent Christopher Denham) looking for sympathy and a place to stay. He is met with an intense silence. The tension is palpable. And yet this toxic dad remains calm and cheerful trying to get his son to agree to his terms, trying to regain the bond that they once shared, as we wonder – did they ever?
Times are tough in 2009 in this town somewhere off of Exit 41 where jobs are scarce and the rain abundant. James has been reduced to selling stethoscopes. He wants to write and has joined a class where he meets a nervous and quirky and altogether winsome young lady, Katie (Sarah Goldberg) supplying just the right amount of humor in this otherwise serious production. Their scenes sparkle letting James relax a bit, but we soon become aware that he lies as well as his dad. Maybe not as well, but he lies nonetheless.
Do lies, even small white lies, protect or hurt or do both? Nothing else seems to matter to Tom except getting what he wants – on his terms. He wants to reconnect with his ex-wife Karen (a tightly wound up and explosive Lisa Emery) who has remarried and is starting to regain and rebuild her life – something their son seems not able to do – his self esteem is low and his dad uses this to forge ahead.
He also has some secret meetings in a parking lot with his nervous son-in-law Chris (Rich Sommer who garners sympathy for a while). Chris got his job at the firm through Tom and Tom wastes no time in reminding him of this to obtain Karen’s phone number and new address and using guilt tactics to try to get his job back at the firm “It’s payback time”- not as a lawyer but as a consultant. It’s hard to resist this slime who remains calm and confident and relentless throughout.
Playwright Levenson has a good ear for dialogue and his characters are always interesting as are his great blackout lines at the end of each scene which encourage us to want to learn more of the slowly exposed development of the relationships introduced. As lies are exposed, we wonder what the truth really is as Tom tries to take them all in again as he did before.
Incidental music by Obadiah Eaves sets the mood just right. The set design by Beowulf Boritt, once again, is perfect. Scott Ellis has done an excellent job in guiding his actors through this difficult journey of lies keeping us all wanting to know the truth and the right answers – if there are indeed any right answers.
Tom Durnin uses loyalty, guilt and lies to try to get those that he has ruined to take him back into their trust. But trust is such a difficult thing to win back.
At the Laura Pels Theatre. A Roundabout production. Through Augsut 25th.
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