nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
December 3, 2008
Dust, Billy Goda's "new thriller" at the Westside Theater Downstairs, is as banal as the argument that precipitates the plot. Martin is exercising on a treadmill when we first see him—in the gym of Manhattan's Essex House—when he notices something. "An air vent," replies Zeke, the handyman who happens to be reading the paper in the gym. "What's in the air vent?" asks Martin. "Is this a trick question?" begins Zeke, "Cause I'm gonna have to say air." "That's dust," says Martin.
An argument ensues: Martin wants Zeke to clean the dust, but Zeke doesn't want to. By the time it's finished, Martin, the high-powered businessman, has vowed to get Zeke fired and Zeke has vowed revenge. It actually does start off promising; after all, everyone can relate to the fact that it's the little things that tick us off most. But Dust just lies there, like a speck of dust on an air vent. It's a shame, too, considering the talent involved (two very worthy actors, Richard Masur and Hunter Foster, are above the title).
So what's wrong with the piece? A lot. I was hoping dust would represent something, but no, dust is just dust. Goda provides too much unnecessary exposition and his play is thrilling for a total of five minutes. A handful of lines are legitimately funny (like a reference to having a home in Westchester but meaning Sing-Sing), others get laughs for the wrong reasons. Not to mention the fact that, well, it's just entirely predictable. Even though you see the ending coming miles away, it's still a confounding copout (though still shocking to some people—it elicited gasps from a number of audience members).
Foster (Zeke) is the only actor who seems to have been directed, so it's a shame that he's miscast. He's a fine actor, but there's no menace in his performance. He plays the role too affably to convincingly portray a psychopath with a drug problem. Masur (Martin), delivering his lines in a monotone throughout, is slightly more menacing, but gives off the impression that he's uninterested in being there.
There are solid performances somewhere buried in the work of Curtis McClarin (as Zeke's parole officer) and Laura E. Campbell (as Martin's daughter), but they're unapparent here. It's especially unfortunate for Campbell, as if she were better directed, she could really be something. She's also saddled with the single most unnecessary (and unnecessarily long, though not as long as Elizabeth Marvel's in Fifty Words) topless scene, on stage or off, I've ever witnessed. Only John Schiappa (as Martin's bodyguard) is giving a truly menacing, piece-appropriate performance.
Director Scott Zigler is to blame for the aimlessness of the actors and meandering, suspenseless staging (especially the second half). The script details that "each change of scene should be suggested by the shifting of key furniture pieces and props." Zigler ignores that note and finishes each scene in an abrupt blackout. The design elements—set by Caleb Wertenbaker, costumes by Theresa Squire and lighting by Charles Foster—are suitable but bland. Even the fight direction, by the usually reliable Rick Sordelet, is underwhelming.
The closing scene of the first act is the closest the production comes to achieving what I assume everyone involved wanted. There, the play truly comes to life. Perhaps that is where the play should have ended; it seems like it would have been a more satisfying conclusion.