By Robert Simonson
11 Feb 2002
The Dance of Death isn't dead yet.
Director Sean Mathias and Ian McKellen will remount in London the production of Strindberg's stinging drama which graced Broadway this past fall. The production will reemerge on the West End sometime toward the end of 2002, Mathias told Playbill On-Line.
McKellen will repeat his performance as the Captain, but his costar Helen Mirren will be absent. No actress has been named to replace her. Producer Bill Kenwright will back the London mounting of the production, which began as the pet project of Shubert Organization head Gerald Schoenfeld.
Ian McKellen — who, as J.R.R. Tolkien's wizard Gandolf in the film "Lord of the Rings," became an international movie star known to millions of children since he opened on Broadway in The Dance of Death — gave his last performance as the vindictive, vainglorious, vanquished Captain on Jan. 13. The limited run began Sept. 18, with an Oct. 11 opening.
The turn was McKellen's first in New York since his Richard III visited the Brooklyn Academy of Music several years ago. His co-stars were Helen Mirren, David Strathairn, Anne Pitoniak, Keira Naughton and Eric Martin Brown. Richard Greenberg did the translation.
Given the play's title and its caustic subject matter, many wondered whether Dance of Death would survive the rocky economic days which befell Broadway following the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. However, the drama, no doubt bolstered by the star power of its two leading players, regularly posted robust numbers. The New York Post reported Jan. 9 that the venture eked out a small profit.
Dance of Death was written by the Swedish dramatist in 1901 and belongs to Strindberg's later, expressionistic phase, a period which produced such classic works as The Ghost Sonata and The Dream Play. McKellen and Mirren play Edgar and Alice, an aged military officer and wife for 25 years, who dwell in an isolated home they have dubbed "Little Hell." As they prepare for their silver anniversary—bereft of children and servants, all of whom have abandoned them to their endless bickering— a figure from their past enters the scene and turns the house and the couple's relationship upsidedown. The play is seldom done, but is thought a tremendous influence of future works, most particularly Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.