The Dance of Death

Studio Theatre | july 13 – september 10

By AUGUST STRINDBERG
In a new version by
CONOR McPHERSON
Directed by MARTHA HENRY
Designed by WILLIAM SCHMUCK
Lighting designed by LOUISE GUINAND
Original music and sound designed by JAMES SMITH

“You see, what you do is, you take a mackerel, grill it, drizzle a little lemon on it, serve it up with a huge glass of white zinfandel – and one doesn’t feel quite like blowing one’s brains out anymore, does one?”

Isolated on an island in a reclaimed fortress, Edgar, an army captain, and his wife Alice have been tormenting each other for 25 years. Their children have fled, no servant will stay and when Kurt, Alice’s cousin arrives, he finds himself drawn into their deadly games. This is the Shaw Festival’s first production in almost 30 years of this titan of the mandate and the premiere of this classic. Strindberg’s darkly comic play has been called the forerunner to Coward’s Private Lives and Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in its bleakly comic look at the travails of marriage.

“Despite the darkest of titles, I am always taken aback by the deep knowledge of the human heart that Strindberg reveals in this compelling marital struggle. To have Martha Henry back here to lead our actors through this ‘dance’ in her inimitable fashion, is to know that this heart will be opened and displayed for all of us to see.” —JM

This show is recommended for ages 17+.
Running time is approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes including one intermission.

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Martha Henry
Martha Henry
Director
William Schmuck
William Schmuck
Designer
Louise Guinand
Louise Guinand
Lighting Designer
James Smith
James Smith
Original Music and Sound Designer
Allan Teichman
Allan Teichman
Stage Manager
Leigh McClymont
Leigh McClymont
Assistant Stage Manager
Landon Doak
Landon Doak
Sentry
Patrick Galligan
Patrick Galligan
Kurt
Jim Mezon
Jim Mezon
Edgar
Fiona Reid
Fiona Reid
Alice
Alice: Perhaps we laugh and we cry in equal measure. Perhaps that’s just the way life has to be. None of us can say if it’s all terribly serious or just some pointless joke. And sometimes the joke is so painful that being serious – gloomy even – brings its own kind of relief. – from The Dance of Death

The phrase ‘black comedy’ seems to be made for this play – a funny and bleak look at marriage, and life, from a master of the mandate whose work has not been presented at the Shaw Festival since 1987. The title of the play alludes to an image dating back to medieval times – a dance that symbolized the omnipresence of death which reminded mortals that at any moment, death might seize them and bring them to judgment. The danse macabre, or Dance of Death, was a popular artistic motif that illustrated the inevitable death of each class, from peasant to knight, with the victim resisting but being pulled along in a kind of dance by a grinning skeleton to the grave.

“More than any other dramatist who ever lived, Strindberg writes himself, and the self he continually exposes is that of alienated modern man, crawling between heaven and earth, desperately trying to pluck some absolutes from a forsaken universe.” – critic Robert Brustein

The husband and wife in the play were modeled after Strindberg’s sister Anna and her husband – Anna was musically gifted but like Alice in the play her career and her love of music suffered because of her marriage to a man who had no artistic interests or inclinations. Hugo was a hardened non-believer, unchanged in his outlook since his youth when he and Strindberg had been close friends. He described his brother-in-law as a “black-hearted man, a despairing, anguished man, who believed in nothing but muscle power and malevolence – a cartload of topsoil, as he referred to himself”. Strindberg wrote Dance of Death in 1900, some months after Hugo, ill with diabetes, had suffered a heart attack. Like Kurt in the play, Strindberg had stayed with him overnight.

Dance of Death is definitely not a tragedy. Although Strindberg is usually thought of as a gloomy writer, there is much more optimism in his work than in Beckett … In Godot, nothing changes; everything will go on in the same ineffably boring way. In Dance of Death, Edgar acquires a new outlook. He is wiser and more understanding than he was at the beginning.” – critic Evert Sprinchorn

The play is often cited as a precursor to other darkly funny plays that feature a brawling husband and wife – from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to the work of Eugene O’Neill. When O’Neill won the Nobel Prize, he cited his great debt to Strindberg, who he called the greatest genius of all modern dramatists, “It was reading his plays when I first started to write back in the winter of 1913-14 that, above all else, first gave me the vision of what modern drama could be, and first inspired me with the urge to write for the theatre myself. If there is anything of lasting worth in my work, it is due to that original impulse from him, which has continued as my inspiration down all the years since then – to the ambition I received then to follow in the footsteps of his genius as worthily as my talent might permit, and with the same integrity of purpose.”

Shaw Seminar

August 4-7
The Shaw’s premier adult education experience. Enrich your understanding of the work on our stages through discussions with artists, writers, scholars, and fellow participants. Includes: six plays, lunches, reception, presentations and parking. From $780.

Book Beyond the Stage events at 1.800.511.7429.

I was astounded by the performance of The Dance of Death. The production cast and crew could not have had a better performance. The facility was impressive as usual and the darkly comical show is a great piece for anyone interested in theatre.
– TripAdvisor

A wonderful 3 character play in an intimate setting. The Dance of Death at the Studio Theatre features 3 exceptional actors playing deeply flawed and unpleasant characters.
– TripAdvisor

The play left us just speechless. We always loved Mezon, but his acting in this play exceeded all our expectations. Bravo! Directing and performance by other actors is also superb.
– TripAdvisor