Denver shakes things up with ‘Dirty Story’
John Patrick Shanley’s raucous play “Dirty Story” looks a lot more like something you’d find off-off Broadway than one of the pillars of the Denver Center Theatre Company’s (DCTC) fall-winter season.This is the damndest piece of theater – a schizophrenic; lange that starts innocently enough as a wordy, intellectual exercise involving a jaded novelist and an earnest grad student. By the time the curtain call came around, though, the audience looked somewhat shell-shocked, sharing looks normally reserved for outrageous comments from a batty old aunt.
But this is DCTC artistic director Donovan Marley’s last season at the Tony-award winning theater, so why not shake things up a bit?It’s not at first apparent, but “Dirty Story” is first and foremost a political satire that grows increasingly strident and transparent. What I enjoyed about it was feeling rather clueless as to where Shanley was headed, then trying to think back to the first act for clues about what was transpiring in the second.It’s not easy to shock audiences anymore, but there are more than a few instances in “Dirty Story” where honest-to-god surprises leapt from nowhere with a malicious crescendo redolent of Tarantino or Hitchcock. Just as we settle in thinking we know where the theme – if not the plot – is headed, Shanley turns the whole thing on its ear with a second act that seems to arrive from another planet. Then you think you should’ve seen it coming.
“Dirty Story” stars DCTC stalwart John Hutton as the washed-up novelist Brutus and newcomer Susan Pourfar as would-be writer Wanda. Brutus reads her manuscript and agrees to meet her in the park, where he savages her effort in a manner that would have most young writers pawning their laptop. But soon after we find Brutus has invited her to his loft for dinner, and so begins a bizarre exercise (we think) in getting Wanda to be able to see herself as someone else. This, Brutus says, is critical to her writing.The act ends with Wanda tied to some mock railroad tracks as Brutus menaces her with a power saw. A hero inexplicably emerges from the floor in the form of Frank (Mike Hartman), but Wanda waves him away, saying she has it under control.In the second act, Brutus’ apartment is a war zone, with Wanda having taken over and relegating him to a small corner. This is Israel, we now know, and Wanda is Ariel Sharon’s surrogate as Brutus plays the Palestinians. Frank, now accompanied by his meek English flunky Watson (Randy Moore), shows up to sort things out for Wanda, but he doesn’t get far. With Bush malapropisms and Western suit and duster, it’s no secret who Frank represents, and it’s even more obvious when he does things like choke on a pretzel and try to settle things by handing out guns and tanks.
“Dirty Story” is a funny yet disturbingly serious play that succeeds in portraying the futility of the situation in the Middle East by confusing the hell out of the audience. Don’t look for tidy endings or much in the way of sense – indeed, the show ends with the four actors playing poker with what they say is the audience’s money, and the suggestion is made to return later for a solution we’re all pretty sure will never materialize.This is a stellar cast, ably directed by Anthony Powell in the DCTC’s theatre-in-the-round space. At times the set design seems a bit over-wrought, but it’s an overall strong production well worth the trip. The subject matter is timely yet presented in a fresh and provocative style as twisted as it is honest. It ought to give theater-goers plenty to talk about on the ride back to the mountains.”Dirty Story” runs through Nov. 13 at Denver Center’s Space Theatre, 1050 13th St., Denver. Tickets are $16-$45. Contact: http://www.denvercenter.org or (800) 641-1222.
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