The Unavoidable Disappearance of Bernie Madoff…er hem, Tom Durnin

The afternoon matinee where I saw The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, I cracked open the Playbill to find that one of the features in it had to do with the show - an interview with Steve Levenson, the writer. One of the opening paragraphs references Bernie Madoff and that the fictitious Tom Durnin, a high-powered lawyer who just served a five-year prison sentence, is NOT Madoff. If Levenson had not made that correlation, I would have never thought in that dimension…and as the show went on, it was hard to not think about the two. Why he felt the need to make this (vague) distinction and why he references it like it is a bad thing...well, I'm not sure exactly.

Because I found TUDOTD, now open at the Laura Pels Theater, interesting with that reference in mind. Not just because it was topical, but moreso because it asks the viewer, "hey, you know that fraudulent and conniving jackass that ruined the lives and welfare of many? What if he just showed up on your doorstep hoping to reconnect?" While the Madoff scandal had a beginning, a middle and a presumed ending of him rotting in jail with his 150 year sentence, TUDOTD is all about piecing together the situation, characters and relationships before and during Durnin's prison time (which we don't see) and him seeking recompense from his family as evidenced by his surprise turn-up at his son's estate (where the play begins).

As far as the show itself? It's inoffensive. It doesn't really epically fail in any regard, but its triumphs were few and far in-between. A majority of the show is Tom Durnin's futile attempts to regain his old life back - family and job and all (oh yeah, he thinks the law form he used to work at will take him back as a freelancer). Let's be honest - the character is well-passed the point of redemption and it is hard to cheer for him with all the destruction he caused…and by the end, he was more prone to belittling the same people he spent an entire show trying to reconnect with (when he chastises his son for his failed marriage and lack of career ambitions, both of which were as a result of Durnin's scandal and media debacle, I was all, "Girl, ARE YOU KIDDING?"). Scenes with Durnin's ex-wife and the son-in-law he helped through the ranks at his firm play out exactly as one would expect, but through it all, it is David Morse's convincing performance that holds together the title character's acerbic, but morally corrupted demeanor.

A side plot (kind of) between Tom's son James and Katie, a girl from his short-story writing class, also made an impression in what could have been a throwaway storyline. James damage is readily apparent and Katie has some baggage of her own. While not exactly a relationship brewing with lust, it was, at the least, an attempt at subtlety watching two people want to move passed the dark spots in their lives. 

But what really made me enjoy this 'ted a tete' was Sarah Goldberg's hilarious performance. Her entrance monologue, where she recites a horrible story with palpable discomfort, was one of her character's several laugh-out-loud moments. And while Christopher Denham overshoots James' "contained emotion" and lands into "Russell Crowe in Les Miserables" territory, it was an affecting moment when his character completely unleashes against his father. Or at least it would have been if Scott Ellis didn't block that scene so horribly (a rare misstep from him).

I reckon The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin is about as middle-of-the-road faire as one can expect. It was an enjoyable watch and over a week later, I still remember pivotal scenes and dialogue. And I can't say there was any one aspect I absolutely abhorred. But I can barely string enough words together regarding the actual show or muster up that much excitement for the aspects that I did like. 

A full-on balls-to-the-walls account of the Bernie Madoff scandal could make for an interesting show in the Enron mold - and hey, maybe that is already in the making - but at least there was more at stake and a basis far more compelling than what TUDOTD strived for. As far as I see it, I agree with Steve Levenson: Tom Durnin is not Bernie Madoff. But for all the negative superlatives you can lay at the latter's feet, at least he makes for an interesting story. And a person you would want to interview for Vanity Fair after slapping him upside the head (or worse). Durnin, on the other hand, is just...yeah.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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