By Daniel Skora
Honesty is the best policy, but there’s not much of that going around among members of the Durnin family. Neither is there compassion, nor kindness, nor the kind of support that you would expect among family members when difficult times occur. Tom Durnin has just returned from prison and it’s the reaction that awaits him from the family he left behind that fuels “The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin”, the current presentation of Meadow Brook Theatre.
Tom Durnin (Loren Bass) is a free man after having served five years for investment fraud. Along with his conviction, the former lawyer has been disbarred, and as a result has been unable to find any kind of meaningful employment. He shows up unannounced at the home of his son James (Lucas Wells) looking for a place to stay. But James would prefer to have nothing more to do with his father; when Tom lost his job, he also lost the significant income that came with it. James, who was going to Yale at the time, was forced to drop out of school. He’s now working for a medical supply company selling stethoscopes while taking a creative writing course at night. There he meets and becomes infatuated with Katie (Dani Cochrane), a classmate whose primary attraction just might be that she’s all the things James would like to be.
Others in the family have similar feelings towards Tom. His former wife Karen (Julia Glander) will not speak to him. Neither will his daughter. His son-in-law Chris (Rusty Mewha), though outwardly sympathetic to his father-in-law’s plight, refuses to speak up for him at the law firm were Tom once worked and Chris is now employed. Each maintains that the stigma of having a convicted felon for a relative was a heavy burden to bear. But one can’t help but sense that the primary reason for their anger was a six-figure number with a dollar sign in front of it. Tom, who’s been known to stretch the truth, maintains that the reason he got involved with his illegal schemes in the first place was not for personal gain, but to maintain the lifestyle his family had grown accustomed to.
“Tom Durnin” is principally about how the effects of the downturn in the stock market, specifically the financial crisis that occurred during the years 2008-09, can be viewed through the microcosm of a single family. For that purpose, it does an admiral job. And Meadow Brook’s production may the best you’ll ever see of this Steven Levenson-penned play. Director Travis W. Walter has assembled some of the best acting talent in the area, all of whom deliver splendid performances. Brian Kessler has designed an attractive and totally functional four-part set that nicely seesaws the action from one location to another, one of which features a roll-out automobile (or at least the front half of one).
But as interesting and as well done as it is, it’s not easy to wrap your arms around this play. For the most part, it has no “heroes”, no one you can warm up to and fully believe in. The way the characters appear at the beginning (and there’s little favorable light shining on the bunch of them) is pretty much the way they appear at play’s end. It’s frustrating, sad, and dispiriting. In addition, playwright Levenson prefers to write scenes using only two of his five characters at a time, giving the play a compartmentalized feel to the entire performance.
If the final scene of a play is often its most memorable and should be the explanation point on all that has gone before, the takeaway from “The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin” has neither to do with white-collar miscreants nor vindictive families. It’s a simple one with writers in mind and it goes like this: “Write what you know”.
“The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin” is a Michigan premier and performed without intermission. Lighting is by Reid G. Johnson, sound by Mike Duncan. Costumes are by Liz Goodall, with Terry W. Carpenter taking care of stage managing duties. The show runs through April 9th. Tickets are available by calling the Meadow Brook box office at 1.248.377.3300 or going online at www.ticketmaster.com. Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in the city of Rochester.