The Dance of Death- Directed by Jeff S. Dailey American Theatre of Actors Review by Michael Elias
October brings out the goblins. There is a long history of demons in Western Literature. That tradition has additions every year and one surprising contribution is available this month at the American Theater for Actors through Sunday evening, October 28th, in The Dance of Death in a dramatization by Dr. Jeff Dailey of a 19th-century poem by Sir Walter Scott.
Sir Walter Scott is read today more often for his historical adventure novels IVANHOE or ROB ROY, both of which garnered much attention due to Hollywood movie treatments. However, Scott also wrote poetry. In 1815, European history swung on the fulcrum point of the Battle of Waterloo as Britain and Germany fought the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte of France. Scott visited the battleground in Belgium and felt spirits rising. He wrote a memorial poem “The Field of Waterloo” for the fallen soldiers to raise money for the widows and orphans. His better effort on the topic of Waterloo is The Dance of Death, written in the tradition of Danse Macabre, an allegory that emphasizes that death is inescapable for us all. The brevity here is powerful. The dialogue and onomatopoeia create a powerful drama that expresses a sad atmosphere of fruitless sacrifice as the spirits of dead soldiers rise to warn the living soldiers that their sacrifice will be in vain.
At the age of 17, I visited the battleground of Waterloo and I can confirm that the land of Waterloo has forever been tainted by the senseless loss of young men in war. The bodies of the soldiers do indeed cry out in warning to intruders. “Step lightly,” they seem to silently cry, “this was then, it is now, it will be the future,” they warn. You feel the urgency of their cry. Their pain may not be ignored: war is permanent even if the results are transitory. This is the strength of the play we have today from the deft hand of Jeff Dailey. Demons rise and declaim. The language is precisely that of the poem, in heroic couplets, but the warning is simultaneously contemporary and timeless: War kills, war does not succeed.
The production in midtown this month is strong. As he has in the past, notably with ANTICHRIST a few years back, Dr. Dailey, a widely talented academic, trained is medieval studies, religious studies, and contemporary drama and literature, the staging takes advantage of the limited flexibilities of the venue. Entrances are made from behind a curtain on stage left, from the back of the audience, from upstage right and left, and even from a raised platform on stage right. The actors are all capable, if not of uniform skill. The costumes contribute considerably to the threatening aura of the poem. Sound effects, indicated in the text, serve to create an atmosphere of clamoring danger. The language, while elevated and dated, is coherent in each actor’s reading.
The Dance of Death is a worthy anticipation of Halloween and an important reminder, as today war is unending in some areas of the world, and an overwhelming conflagration is a constant clear and present danger, that the war dead cry out to us that their sacrifice achieves nothing.
American Theatre of Actors
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