Monday, September 15, 2014
Inquirer Daily News


By Toby Zinman



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: or (212) 719-1300

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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