PLOT CONVOLUTION 101
by Arielle Lipshaw
published December 5, 2008
now playing Off Broadway at the Westside Theater
Within the first two minutes of Dust, Billy Goda’s play, billed as a “new thriller” and
now playing at the Westside Theatre, a character informs us that “[Dust] means people aren’t paying attention to detail.” It is the first
of many indications that we are about to witness a play packed with painfully heavy-handed metaphors.
In the first scene, Martin Stone (Richard Masur), a bad-tempered businessman, works out on a treadmill in a hotel gym. He is
disturbed to see a thick layer of dust caked on the air vent, and demands that the hotel handyman, Zeke (Hunter Foster), clean it up
immediately. Zeke refuses, and so begins the simplistic yet unnecessarily convoluted plot. The two men embark on a dangerous game of
one-upmanship and revenge, involving, along the way, Zeke’s two high school friends (one of whom is his parole officer), Martin’s daughter,
and a cold-blooded bodyguard named Ralph.
Goda’s characters are not so much people as generic combinations of traits and circumstances. There is the recovering addict who
succumbs to temptation, the wealthy man with no time for his family, and the Lindsay Lohan-esque party girl. Worse yet are the flagrant
stereotypes—apparently black men all have sports posters on their walls, and are differentiated only by baseball versus football. The
character of Martin’s daughter Jenny (Laura E. Campbell) is so poorly written as to be offensive. She is turned on by a potential rapist
(with whom she later forms a romantic relationship), and then falsely alleges that she was physically assaulted. We know nothing about her
other than that she is a rich, bored college freshman who hates her father, and that is, apparently, enough to explain her strange and
contradictory actions. Ms. Campbell also has to deliver some of the play’s most truly unfortunate dialogue with a straight face (announcing
that she is majoring in sex, and then later purring, “I want to share my college education with you”) and is subjected to the most
gratuitous nude scene I think I’ve ever seen onstage. One gets the impression that the playwright has never actually met a woman, or if he
did, he didn’t think much of her.
The Westside has assembled a cast and crew far superior to the material that they are forced to wrestle with. Hunter Foster, best
known for his work in musicals such as Little Shop of Horrors and Urinetown, is simply miscast. He is unable to summon up the hard-eyed cruelty which his role demands. He,
too, must deliver awkward and clichéd lines such as “Sit down before I knock you down” and “I’m scared a park bench will become my home.”
Scott Zigler is an experienced director, but many of his choices here are mystifying, and the story of the play is just not clear. Although
the three-part, multi-location set is an interesting concept, it is not well-used or well-executed. Why must actors constantly stand
directly behind the theater’s sightline-blocking poles?
To complete the metaphor introduced in Scene One, at the end of the play one character asks another, “All this because of dust?”
to which the response is, “Because of dust.” Perhaps Mr. Goda should have taken his own advice to heart. Had he paid attention to the
details of skillful playwriting, “all this” might never have happened.
arielle.lipshaw @ stageandcinema.com