Dorset Theatre Festival's `Dig' among Rebeck's best

World premiere wows audiences with sublime acting

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DORSET — Sometime during this past decade, Theresa Rebeck found a theatrical home near her home in Dorset, at Dorset Theatre Festival, where she has launched a number of her new plays.

When considering all of Rebeck's efforts in the Northshire to date, the world premiere of her latest work, "Dig," which she also directs, and which runs through July 27, is arguably her best yet.

We find ourselves in a dying neighborhood plant shop, where proprietor Roger (Jeffrey Bean) whiles away the day with his stoner assistant Everett (Greg Keller) in the esoterica of leaves and fertilizers, all while neglecting the commercial downward spiral that everyone else seems to notice. Church-going Molly (Sarah Ellen Stephens), an occasional customer, puts an accent on Roger's eccentricity by calling out his miserable state of affairs.

Meghan (Andrea Syglowski), survivor of a recent a recent suicide attempt, is the daughter of Roger's pragmatic accountant, Lou (Gordon Clapp). She comes in with her father, who brings in a plant to save, and a story of trauma, loss, and redemption begins to unfold. Before it comes full circle, it's further accentuated into an ugly realm by the brief arrival of Meghan's ex, Adam (David Mason).

In a very deliberate evolution, Rebeck manages to makes both major and minor characters weave into each other's lives in meaningful ways which help propel the play through its two hours (intermission included).

Rebeck's hands-on approach with this play clearly had her actors primed since preview night, when not even a few line hesitations could dampen the immensity of what we witnessed. Also, much to her credit, this is probably the first time Rebeck's typically excessive use of F-bombs in the script was kept to a minimum, and actually fit hand-in-glove with its focused usage.

Mason was absolutely detestable as Adam, meaning he hit the character marks dead on during his short time on stage. Brief, but powerful. Stephens' Molly interjected her unique brand of sardonic sensibility into her plant shop spells, providing vital reminders of common sense right when needed most. Keller's Adam was very nicely tragicomical and offered us several crucial moments of tension release, which helped Rebeck's story line move along smartly.

Emmy-winner Clapp's much-anticipated Dorset debut did not disappoint, as his Lou very adeptly brought a bit of the gruffness from his NYPD Blue days to counter Meghan's internal strife with a black-and-white view of life that was very realistic for a father to express.

Bean's Roger was a skillful roller coaster of personae that left you rooting for him to make that crucial breakthrough and squeeze more from his existence than the bitterness and underlying resentment he so excellently portrayed.

Finally, and I don't say the following lightly, there was Syglowski: The theater has been part of my life for a half century, ever since my mother took me to my first Broadway show as a young boy.

Since then, I have soaked up plays from Epidaurus to Herod Atticus, from the West End to Lower Manhattan and back to the reconstructed Globe. I've taken in drama and comedy on every continent where it exists, in several dozen languages and who knows how many adaptations.

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And yet: here I find myself at Dorset, where Andrea Syglowski, in a certain scene of this play, delivered the most powerfully riveting and gut-wrenching performance by a lead, male or female, that I have ever had the privilege to witness over the course of those 50 years.

This is decidedly not hyperbole on my part, and I won't spoil it by divulging the story line moment, but you will either know it when you see it, or you need to check your pulse to make sure you are part of the human race. Best. Dramatic. Acting. Moment. Ever.

I still have to wipe my eyes every time I try to replay Syglowski's portrayal in my mind. Rebeck wrote the type of scene that actors wait an entire career to tackle. I can't picture anyone nailing it better than Syglowski did.

Christopher and Justin Swader's set was a masterpiece to behold, and completely believable as a real neighborhood plant shop, all while its warm tones made us want to be customers. Costumes by Tilly Grimes, and assisted by Caity Mulkearns, addressed both metaphor and function, and had an eye for authentic character detail.

Lights by Phillips S. Rosenberg were sublime in their time-of-day transitions and sound by Fitz Patton hit its marks nicely. This spirited production was most capably stage managed by Carolynn Richer, whose logistical acumen was vital to "Dig"'s smooth delivery start to finish.

New plays, world premieres — these have become de rigueur at Dorset for the past few years, all with the added effect of fairly increased national exposure for such a small regional company.

Much of the latter of course, can be credited to the star power of nearby second-home residents such as Rebeck and Tim Daly, and other who have since found their way to Dorset, such as Clapp in this production. But the hard work, the in the trenches grind needed for foundational success must get a nod for the three-headed machine of artistic director Dina Janis, producing director Will Rucker, and executive director Marissa Hutton. Bravo to them!

To that end, "Dig" is a remarkably polished work for a new play, though no doubt Rebeck is already taking her pen to it with every staging - as it should be.

But more importantly, what's not to be missed is the exquisite acting of this cast, with a bow to Ms. Syglowski's tour-de-force. There are precious few moments in theater that tear at our guts but have us jumping from our seats at final curtain, and the acting in "Dig" is some of the best you will see anywhere, period.

"Dig," written and directed by Theresa Rebeck, will run through July 27 at Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Road., Dorset. Info and tickets: 802-867-2223 x101, or www.dorsettheatrefestival.org

Telly Halkias is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. E-mail: tchalkias@aol.com, Twitter: @Telly Halkias


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