Friday, December 05, 2008

Off-Broadway: Dust

Dust is persistent and eternal. It constantly gathers in even the most carefully controlled environments, and it represents the state to which all living things will eventually return. It also causes an unsettling contest of wills in Billy Goda’s dark new play Dust, which opened Off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre last night.

Despite his doctor’s orders to take off some pounds, businessman Martin Stone still enjoys throwing his weight around. He lives in a midtown hotel to have people constantly at his beck and call. While reluctantly putting in some time on the treadmill, he fixates on fine layer of dust coating the ceiling vents. The closest chops to bust belong to Zeke Catchman, the handyman, picking up some overtime as the gym’s night attendant. An ex-con with anger management issues, Catchman is not inclined to cower under Stone’s abuse. As he pushes back, the seemingly trivial situation nearly escalates into a physical confrontation. Of course, Stone has the handyman fired, but when Catchman warns it is not over, he means it.

In addition to some stalking and property damage, the ex-con also picks up Stone’s vulnerable daughter Jenny to personally deliver message to his target. Even though she is a bit freaked out by their initial encounter, there seems to be a strange connection between the two that is more credible on-stage than it probably sounds. Back on drugs, Catchman’s self-destructive tendencies threaten to destroy him, yet his unlikely relationship Jenny Stone might offer the promise of redemption. He is a man on the brink, whose life could go either way.

The greatest asset of Dust is Hunter Foster’s riveting performance, which nails Catchman’s dual nature. Though he degenerates into a twitchy, hardened junkie, he still convincingly conveys the kernel of decency buried within him. Foster also has nice on-stage chemistry with Laura E. Campbell, who also gives an impressive performance as the daughter of his quarry. Though not as extreme as Catchman, Campbell’s character is also a bit off, but still retains a sweetness that seems quite genuine. Surprisingly, the weak link of the small cast is veteran actor Richard Masur (well-remembered for the disastrous college interview scene in Risky Business) as Martin Stone, who does not project the sense of ruthless menace required in the part.

It might seem incredible that such a minor incident could spiral out of control so quickly, but it is totally believable in Dust, thanks to the brutal logic of Goda’s play and Scott Zigler’s tight direction. It is definitely theater for adults, featuring simulated drug use and brief on-stage nudity. Dust takes the audience to some very dark places, but offer two excellent performances from Foster and Campbell. Perfect holiday fare (I guess), it runs at the Westside through January fourth.

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg