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'Dirt' at Raven Playhouse mines horror and comedy

'Dirt' at Raven Playhouse mines horror and comedy
A disembodied victim of modern-day toxicity(Mandy Levin, left) finds belated emotional rapprochement with her grieving mom (Maia Danziger). (John Perrin Flynn)

Who knew housecleaning could be life-threatening? The revelation may offer welcome relief to slobs everywhere, but it comes a bit too late for the hapless heroine of "Dirt," Bryony Lavery's tragicomic meditation on death, quantum mechanics and modern-day toxicity making its West Coast debut at North Hollywood's Raven Playhouse.

Lavery's literary flair for juggling far-flung philosophy, technical minutiae and poetic imagery are apparent in Rogue Machine and SRS Production Wing's witty and sharp-edged — albeit decidedly heady — co-production.

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In the play's main story line, a frenzy of apartment tidying and plastering on of makeup in preparation for a date has exposed a young urbanite named Harper (Mandy Levin) to a lethal cocktail of household chemical. Nevertheless, she continues to narrate the circumstances of her premature demise from the perspective of a disembodied but highly articulate spirit.

Think of it as dead woman talking. Now a disembodied spirit hovering between being and nothingness, she's an ironic illustration of indeterminate "superposition of states" invoked by her brainy mom (Maia Danziger), who's too busy explaining quantum theory to take what turns out to be a final phone call from her daughter.

Harper's less-than-supportive nerdy beau (Mark McClain Wilson) is just as self-absorbed — as is Harper herself, for that matter. So too are a waitress/aspiring actress (Ryan Walsh) and her new age-y, ex-druggie roommate (Jack Krizmanich), in a loosely connected and more conventional subplot.

The rampant narcissism shares complicity with environmental hazards in Harper's death, a broad social critique reinforced with a narrative structure built primarily around introspective monologues with occasional interaction between the characters — a potentially hackneyed presentational style rescued by eloquence and fine performances.

Ann Bronston's clear, well-paced staging mines both horror and unlikely comedy, particularly when Levin's Harper chronicles with clinical detail the putrefaction of her own corpse as it sits undiscovered for days. It's a cautionary image that invites contemplation on a metaphysical scale. Plus, it will make you think twice before picking up that sponge and spray cleaner.

"Dirt," Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. on Sundays. Ends April 17. $25. www.roguemachinetheatre.com. Running time: 90 minutes.

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