Monday, August 5, 2013

The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin

I was lucky enough to get great seats at a great price for the off Broadway play, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin. I had never heard of the play before but once I saw the cast list I was very excited. It's a small ensemble, five roles, and two of those roles were played by Harry Crane - nay, Rich Sommer and David Morse. It is being performed at the Roundabout at Laura Pels Theatre, which is a little on the smaller side, but then again, I've never gone to a play (only a few musicals) in New York, let alone an off Broadway play, so maybe it's not that small compared to other venues. But anywho, the story is about Tom (David Morse) who has just returned from spending five years in prison and he is trying to reconnect with his family, most of whom want nothing to do with him. You don't find out until later in the play what exactly he did, but it makes sense why his family refuses to acknowledge him, especially because of his actions throughout. His son, James, played by Christopher Denham, gives in and lets his father stay in his one bedroom house for a month but won't allow anyone to know. Christopher had to drop out of Yale for his father's crimes and now works at a medical supply company selling stethoscopes, or catheters, or X-ray machines, his family doesn't really remember what, but he insists it's stethoscopes, and he is currently taking a beginner's english writing class with the flighty Katie, and the two begin a relationship.

I don't know if I just set my expectations too high for David Morse since he's been acting since before I was even born, but I just couldn't buy it. It wasn't entirely his fault that his character was unlikeable for the wrong reasons. The audience understands that he is there to make amends, but it isn't really quite clear how he wants to. He goes from apologizing for the things he's done but doesn't seem to show any remorse and reacts offensively when his family members confront him with how they were affected by his going to prison. Morse himself goes from talking calmly, almost in a condescending way, then jumps into barking his lines with a raging red face, but still holds back physically. He throws a pillow in anger as if he just went through blocking the scene. You wonder if the writer and director even wants the audience to empathize with Tom because it's hard to. Tom doesn't gloss over his past yet he gets raging mad when his family mentions his absence. If he had wanted to pretend his imprisonment never happened and wanted to start over, it would have been a bit more believable but instead we watch him begrudingly act like he's paid his dues while also expecting those around him to make up for his mistakes.

Rich Sommer reminded me of his character, Harry Crane in Mad Men, but in the first season, when he was still nervous and just wanted to do good. He plays Tom's son-in-law who also used to work at the same law firm as Tom. You can tell he's a good guy who wants everyone to like him, so in this kind of situation, where his wife doesn't want to see her father, he is stuck in the middle and it gets to him. There is a scene where the nervous Chris finally does stand up to Tom's barking and he delivers the scene in such a smooth progression (does that make sense?) that you kind of want to nudge David Morse and say, "Hey, dude, take some notes." I'm being too hard on Mr. Morse, but I just had such high expectations.

The person who stole the show for me was Sarah Goldberg who plays Katie. Her character emodies that manic pixie dream girl who we all know and love (just kidding guys!); Sarah not only delivers her lines in the bubbly and awkward way they were written, she also gives them a sort of sadness and wanting that you wish the story was more about her and you feel bad that her character was given a backstory of "my fiance left me for a stripper who wasn't even hot." I don't know much about Lisa, but I hope to see her in more things, hopefully more on screen, as that's more affordable for my bank account.

Side note: I loved the music. There wasn't much, it was only played in the beginning and in between scene, but it reminded me very much of Thomas Newman's score for American Beauty

and if you know me at all (which you don't), I absolutely love that score. In this case, I don't think it worked well as a connector between scenes, but it was a good listen. (Obadiah Eaves is credited)

Now here's the fun part, STAGE DOOR! I've never really gone to the stage door after a play or musical before, so I wasn't sure if there was a back entrance to the theatre that they would leave from or what, but all of a sudden I saw Rich Sommer walk out the front doors and debated if I wanted to stop him and fawn over him and Mad Men, even though that probably happens to him all the time and I'd just be a nuisance, but no one else stopped him to chat or take a picture so I thought "is this not cool anymore? should i just go?" I didn't. And he continued walking and whispered under my breath, "...Harry." Then Sarah Goldberg walked out and I had to tell her how much I enjoyed her performance. Our conversation was just a tad awkward that you'd think I had taken over her role she had just performed and was continuing out in the entrance area. I had told her I had never heard of her before tonight but hope to see her in more things (and yeah, she's been in things, A LOT of things. but I'm more a film girl! that's my excuse). Then out comes David Morse. I know he's a tall man, but he's also a very serious looking man. I'm a tall girl, but my 5'10" is no match for his 6'4" and stone face. I basically gushed over growing up watching him, from reruns of St. Elsewhere to The Green Mile to Dancer In The Dark (damn his character!) to World War Z I had just seen the night before. He made a comment along the lines of the two characters being similar and I joked "but in this role you had teeth!" Good one, Danielle. Next time make sure you jab him in the side with your elbow for emphasis. There was a picture taken, but I'm that girl who thinks she looks fat and shiny. Plus my wrap dress number seemed to keep unwrapping and I'm afraid Mr. Morse got the wrong impression of me.


  1. Great post, I must agree about the music, I thought the sets were great too! I thought the exact opposite about Sarah, she seemed way to flighty to be taken seriously and by the end was just annoying. I would have rather seems Tom's daughter. David Morse is a great actor but he really had nothing to work with, no wonder most think he's underused, it didn’t even come close to great writing like he had with ‘The Seafarer’ or ‘How I Learned to Drive’ but he did the best with what he had. He rarely seems to be given dialog that matches his talent. His son (Rich Sommer) and son-it-law (Christopher Denham) seemed to have a hard time keeping up with David acting-wise. It was like watching a pro football player having to play with junior varsity kids.

  2. @Valissa - (not sure if I can reply directly on blogger, still kind of learning this)

    I can't believe I forgot to mention the set! I did like it and thought it worked well with transitioning between scenes.

    This is my first time seeing David Morse on stage and like I've mentioned, I was a little underwhelmed, so I'm interested to see him on stage in the future. Like you said, he didn't have a lot to work with, so I'm wondering if I maybe thought he overdid it because of that?