'The Visit' Tells Dark Tale of Vengeance

THE VISIT Play by Friedrich Durrenmatt, adapted by Maurice Valency. Directed by Edwin Sherin. Starring Jane Alexander and Harris Yulin. Playing at the Criterion Center Stage Right through Feb. 23.

'I WISH to buy justice," announces Claire Zachanassian, the mysterious visitor to the small European town of Gullen. "But justice cannot be bought, madame," replies the town's astonished mayor. "Anything can be bought," insists Claire.

The events of Friedrich Durrenmatt's 1956 horror play prove her right. They also demonstrate that vengeance delayed is not necessarily vengeance denied.

Starring Jane Alexander as Durrenmatt's implacable antiheroine and Harris Yulin as the wretched Anton Schill, the Roundabout Theatre Company has mounted a strong revival of the darkly riveting work at the Criterion Center Stage Right. From the moment the actors begin assembling on stage, the complex parts of the whole gradually come together as Schill's fate grows inevitable.

Claire sets about avenging the wrong Schill did her nearly 40 years previously in ending their youthful love affair, leaving her to bear their child and driving her out into the world she subsequently conquered. The fact that she went on to become a global tycoon has not assuaged her bitter sense of injustice. The justice she now seeks - and for which she is prepared to pay 2 billion marks - is Schill's execution.

Schill starts to grasp the nature of his peril when the heretofore friendly townspeople and even his own family begin spending on credit in anticipation of Claire's bounty. His friends and colleagues - even his wife - offer such rational explanations that he comes not only to accept but to share their logic.

Under Edwin Sherin's direction, the bizarre case is compellingly made. Miss Alexander is a statuesquely handsome Claire - red-wigged, sumptuously gowned, imperviously dominating. The actress personifies the arrogance of a magnate who has earned her billions ruthlessly and is bent on enjoying their uses. As Gullen's popular grocer and mayor presumptive, Mr. Yulin perceives Schill as the small-town good guy who must gradually accept and even welcome his fate.

So artfully structured a work requires a solid ensemble performance. By and large, Mr. Sherin and company oblige.

Set designer Thomas Lynch's scenic scheme centers around an all-purpose structure that begins as a train station and adjusts to accommodate other scenes. The revival has been appropriately costumed by Frank Krenz, and composer Douglas J. Cuomo's accompaniments include reverberant sound effects of trains.

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