NEW YORK (AP) — "The Dance of Death," a searing, dark comedy about a bitterly hateful married couple, was written by August Strindberg in 1900. An edgy, sometimes harrowing new adaptation by Mike Poulton, presented by the always-adventurous Red Bull Theater, opened Thursday night off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, where the 19th-century marital battles are as resonant onstage as ever.
Laila Robins gives a spirited, often vitriolic performance as despairing Alice, married for 25 "hellish" years to Edgar, (Daniel Davis). He's an extremely unpopular military captain serving on an island that seems to have become their personal purgatory. Davis' subtle enactment of Edgar, who claims deteriorating health, equally embraces his bullying ways, empty swagger and self-pitying, reflective moments of broken spirit.
Director Joseph Hardy tries to leaven the script's hostility by finding as much humor as possible, although the comedy is acerbic and the couple's heated exchanges often scalding. Robins is both effusive and sly as Alice tries to keep one step ahead of her treacherous, bullying spouse. Davis hams it up a little, without spoiling the genuinely corrosive nature of their constant arguments.
Each character harbors delusions and justifiable paranoia about the other. With all their bickering, they've managed to isolate themselves from almost everyone both on and off the island, including their own children. Yet they still attempt with spiteful plotting to manipulate anybody foolish enough to come near them.