Dorset Theatre Festival Thrills with Theresa Rebeck’s World Premiere “Dig”
On the outskirts of town lies a dusty, forlorn plant store run by Roger (Jeffery Bean who thrums with a suppressed passion) who in the opening moments of “Dig,” Theresa Rebeck’s terrifically challenging and explosive new romance making its World Premiere at Dorset Theatre Festival in a nearly perfect inaugural production, seems to be communing with his charges, caressing their leaves and stroking their tendrils. He has much to offer us in this setting on the science of photosynthesis, the various methods of pruning for health, growth or beauty and most importantly finding the right pot for your plant’s health and happiness. His first customer of the day is his oldest friend and sometime accountant Lou (Gordon Clapp, forcefully played by Emmy winner from “NYPD Blue”) who brings him a sad specimen of a plant in need of rescue. Roger diagnoses the condition that he didn’t water it for a month and then overcompensated and drowned it. Perched in the corner dressed in black and grays, nearly unacknowledged sits the true subject of the play’s rehabilitation, Lou’s daughter Megan (Andrea Syglowski, incandescent) who has returned home in her father’s charge because she has tried to kill herself with pills and vodka and is in her early days of recovery.
Megan challenges all around her. Her suicide attempt was precipitated by a crime so heartless and grievous that every character in the play and member of the audience must pass through the crucible of their response and grapple with how they would or could make space for someone capable of such an offense. Ms. Rebeck who is the most produced woman playwright on Broadway gives us a graphic description of the crime and its effect but more thrillingly she gives us each character’s struggle with Megan and her actions. How do you accept and forgive someone’s past and can you ever make a place for them in your heart and in your life again?
Andrea Syglowski is electrifying in the lead. After a powerful performance in last summer’s “Cry It Out,” Ms. Rebeck has given Ms. Syglowski a character in her defeated state that, ironically, allows her to spread her wings and fly. In her determination to make amends and pursue a life of rigorous honesty, she is by turns pitiable, charming, exasperating and frightening. It is an extraordinary performance and all the more so coming on opening night in a world premiere of a work directed by its author. Giving as good as they get are the community surrounding her. Jeffrey Bean as Roger, the shop owner, has described pruning as “loving and dangerous.” He seems to be practicing it on himself: angrily cutting off those who exasperate him, persuasively nurturing and blooming with possibility and promise of new life. He is a terrific foil for Ms. Syglowski and you are fully invested in their happiness. Playing Megan’s ex-husband Adam in an explosive scene that nearly divided the audience is David Mason and his pitched battle with Megan is a highlight of the night. Equally divisive is the lovable stoner who works in the shop, Everett, played with shaggy good humor by Greg Keller (another veteran of last year’s excellent “Cry It Out) who is great company throughout the evening… until he’s not. Gordon Clapp is tested to his limits and grief-stricken himself and Sarah Ellen Stephens as Molly, a church woman who befriends Megan makes the act of forgiveness a compelling risk worth taking. Theresa Rebeck has done a terrific job casting, managing the dynamics and setting off the indoor fireworks that quicken our pulse throughout the evening. I have never been more persuaded or engrossed in her storytelling than last night and there were moments that were breathtaking. A thrilling, moral adventure of reclamation.
The set is a stunner. A corner shop overloaded with plants at the opening, with each successive scene another source of light reveals new facets all evening long, just like the characters. Really great work by Christopher and Justin Swader on scenic design and Phillip S. Rosenberg on lights. The Swaders coincidentally opened a New York Times Critic’s Pick of “The Bacchae” at Classic Theatre of Harlem on the same night. Tilly Grimes gives each character a completely believable wardrobe that you can see coming out of each of their closets. Carolynn Richer is the stage manager who keeps the many scene changes and their attendant costume and prop changes organized seamlessly throughout. I also particularly like the sound design by Fitz Patton which had an amplified electronic undertone that airy vocals and birdsong floated above.
“Dig” is a thorny, urgent howl for compassion, understanding and honesty both with ourselves and with our dealings with others as a matter of life and death consequence. I have mentioned that the characters are challenging to each other and the audience. There were a pair sitting next to us who did not return from intermission, comments were overheard that the characters were not likable people and there was nervous laughter during the marital confrontation rippling through the auditorium, patrons who I’m guessing were uncomfortable with Adam’s arrogance and gaslighting or had just lost patience with Megan’s capitulations. I know that my powers of empathy are strained hardest when I close myself off to imagining another’s actions.
We never regret a visit to Dorset, a quintessential summer barn of a theatre nestled in the cool Vermont woods only an hour and 15 minutes from downtown Troy and we are always rewarded with at least one shining Summer diamond of a production, this “Dig” has unearthed that gem.
Dorset Theatre Festival