By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
David Morse, the fine character actor (and Chestnut Hill resident) who is the star of The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, has made something of a specialty of playing difficult, troubled male characters and making them sympathetic; Uncle Peck in Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive is a memorable example.
In this world premiere of this grim play by Steven Levenson, Morse plays Tom Durnin, a lawyer, just out of prison, trying to get his life back. He winds up sleeping on his son’s sofa. The son, James (Christopher Denham) is only part of the collateral damage Tom Durnin caused by bilking his friends and family out of all their money and then getting caught. It’s the by-now familiar story of greed and ethics erosion, where everyone is so eager to make a killing, and then, when things fall apart, eager to claim victim status.
And so there is no one left for us to like or admire—not his daughter who refuses to see Tom or let him see his grandchildren, nor his weak son-in-law (Rich Sommer), a lawyer Tom hired to work for him years before, who can’t seem to make a decisive choice, nor Tom’s bitter wife (Lisa Emery), nor James’ wife Addison who has abandoned the family, nor James’ girlfriend Katie (Sarah Goldberg) who out-victims James in the pity-me, I’m-a-mess game. There is no loyalty, no kindness, no forgiveness.
Directed by Scott Ellis with an insistence on naturalism so extreme that almost everybody looks down at their feet all the time and is barely audible, except David Morse, who has desperate moments of red-faced shouting. Morse makes us see how good Tom is at manipulating people, thinking on his feet, threatening, pleading, making his past as a white collar criminal—only barely sketched in—believable.
The plot turns on secrets and lies, although none of the revelations is even slightly surprising or interesting. After we hear the requisite and mawkish reminiscences about childhood father-son fishing trips, James, who is taking a creative writing course, includes this in his last story, read aloud to us: the fish, who remember the wound of being caught and can feel the scar of where the hook went in, shake their heads and refuse to take the bait. This is, of course, James’ refusal to take the bait of his father’s plea to be forgiven, and thus his “unavoidable disappearance.” A shallow play about shallow people.
Roundabout Theatre Company at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. Through August 25.Tickets $71-81. Information: roundabouttheatre.org or (212) 719-1300