Dirt may be the main scenic component of The Studio Theatre’s World Premiere production of Dirt now playing at their Studio Lab, but Scenic Designer Debra Booth has supplied twinkling stars in the skies as well. There is hope amidst the contamination, messiness, and squalor in Bryony Lavery’s stimulating and cerebral play as characters interact in a universe that seems random and callous. The five characters on stage here are all interconnected in their need for human interaction and there is a poetic thrust to their angry tirades. This play is challenging fare for a specialized audience but the rewards are plentiful in this very professional, polished, and striking production.
Under the very controlled direction of David Muse, this intriguing play takes us to many subjective worlds that the playwright discloses as these characters try to make sense of their existence. The messiness of human life is shown through the manipulation of one character by an unscrupulous technician and – especially – through a dating couple who cannot agree on almost anything until the primal pull of the sex act pulls them together. The onslaught of chemicals and creams contaminating people and the digestive tract’s bile and gas are portrayed as toxic and disturbing yet the hope of rebirth is always present in the healing power of the very dirt we walk on. Life seems to be a continual cycle of death and disintegration – yet growth and hope are always possible.
Muse’s direction is marked by an almost cinematic, fluid approach where scenes play out like fast-dissolves. The scenes play off each other like interrelated vignettes – each scene is presented with a pared-down clean and economical style. This directorial approach helps to give cohesiveness to the often unpleasant and disturbing subject matter. The Lighting by John Burkland lends an evocative touch to the proceedings and the Sound Design by Christopher Baine is appropriately mesmerizing.
Acted to the hilt by all the actors, this is very fine ensemble playing indeed. Holly Twyford is superb and subtle in her portrayal of the main character, Harper. Twyford moves so beautifully and naturally on stage and she reinforces her hold on DC metro audiences. Natalia Payne as the waitress Elle is a particular standout and has a very commanding physical presence and a nuanced vocal delivery. Carolyn Mignini as May, Matthew Montelongo as Matt and Ro Boddie as Guy are all uniformly excellent in their roles.
Once again, The Studio Theatre has a hit on its hands with Dirt. Do not miss this one!
Running Time: Two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
Dirt plays through November 11, 2012, at Stage 4 at The Studio Theatre – 1501-14th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.