Monday, June 17, 2013

'The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin:' Portrait of a Callous Narcissist

“Everybody’s laying all their shit on me!”

That’s the voice of the title character in playwright Steven Levenson’s (The Language of Trees) latest work, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, now on view at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre. 

Depending on the line reading, this could be a cry of self-pity, or it might be a determined declaration of independence.  Coming from the mouth of David Morse, the splendid actor playing the role, it is neither.  It is just another attempt at manipulating everyone around him into doing exactly what he wants them to do—the very sort of tactic that landed him a five-year stint in federal prison for securities fraud and insider trading.    

Now he is out, not the least bit remorseful, and bound and determined to insinuate himself back into the lives of his family as if it were his due.

In brief, Tom is the perfect a-hole, a man who would shame his son (Christopher Denham) into letting him move in, who would blackmail his son-in-law (Rich Sommer) into helping him get rehired at the firm where they both had worked until Tom was arrested, and who would stalk his ex-wife (Lisa Emery).  Where is their loyalty to him, he demands repeatedly. 

The play is at its best when it demonstrates the impact of a callous narcissist on those around him.  Mr. Morse owns the stage whenever he is on it, and he plays the role to the hilt.  His Tom Durnin is a most hiss-worthy villain; at the performance I attended, I was surrounded by any number of audience members who kept muttering nasty things about the character.  I’ll confess to having cursed him myself once or twice. 

It’s not hard to understand why Tom’s daughter and wife want nothing to do with him, but it’s also not that difficult to understand why his son James takes him in, albeit reluctantly. 

James is going through some tough times himself.   He is a lost soul, still reeling from a difficult breakup, stuck in a stultifying job, and unsure of what to do with his life. Taking in his father means he does not have to come home to an empty house day after day.    

With the financial support of his mother, James has quit his job and is now taking a writing course at the local community college and is attempting to write a novel.  At the college, he befriends Katie (Sarah Goldberg), who has her own problems with trust.  The two of them are starting to build a relationship, which James nearly derails when he starts to fall into his father’s pattern of lying and misleading. 

Under the direction of Scott Ellis, the cast does a fine job all around.  I was particularly taken with Ms. Emery’s portrayal of Tom’s ex-wife in their confrontational scene. But the play truly belongs to Mr. Morse, who sinks his teeth into the powerful title role like a junkyard dog.  His interactions with his son, his son-in-law, his ex-wife, and with Katie are most discomfiting, and by the time Tom “unavoidably disappears,” it is clear he has left much damage in his wake.  We can only hope he stays away.

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