I’ve been a Roundabout Theatre Company subscriber for nearly two decades now, and the joys of membership are many. One is getting a guaranteed seat to shows that often become the hottest tickets in town (as when Harry Connick Jr. made his Broadway debut in The Pajama Game). Another, conversely, is seeing a play—usually a new work, in the company’s Off-Broadway house, Laura Pels Theatre—that I probably wouldn’t have gone to on my own. Case in point: the Laura Pels’ current production, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, a beautifully written play by Steven Levenson. Unfolding in a series of fast-paced scenes, it sets up the story of Tom Durnin (David Morse, a fine veteran stage actor, though he’ll always be the idealistic young doctor from the TV series St. Elsewhere to me), a lawyer just released from prison. He’s trying to reconnect with his son (Christopher Denham), ex-wife (Lisa Emery) and son-in-law (Rich Sommer, aka Harry, the dweebish TV-ad exec on Mad Men).
But it’s been five years, and their gut reaction is to treat him as forgotten, but not gone. Although the play touches on several topical issues (stock-market manipulation, stagnant economy, unemployment), the focus is really on the relationships. What’s fascinating is the way your sympathies keep shifting from scene to scene, from Tom to a member of his family (almost every scene is a duet, most of them between Tom and someone). Are his relatives being hard and unforgiving, or understandably just trying to get on with their new lives? You feel for Tom as a victim, then squirm at the smooth-tongued way he manipulates others—and then wonder if, in fact, they could use some manipulating. In short, a show that makes you think a bit—and wonder how you’d behave if placed in the characters’ situation. How nice it would be if all theatre were like that.
» The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St., 212.719.1300, thru Aug. 25