Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Dirty Story is a Strange and Bluntly Metaphorical Drama
Also see Richard's review of A Christmas Carol
Actors Theatre of San Francisco is presenting the west coast premiere of John Patrick Shanley's Dirty Story, a comedy-drama that should offend everyone. The controversial play opened Off Broadway at the LAByrinth Theatre Company in New York in February of this year. Ben Brantley of the New York Times called it "one of the liveliest, boldest and against the odds funniest studies of a subject that even hard core satirists tend to approach on tiptoe." The allegorical play is a savage comedy about sex, politics and the Middle East. As one critic said, "If something in it doesn't offend you, you're tougher than a Texas jury."
Dirty Story is political in nature; it helps if you have some background on the years and years of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. There are just four characters in this political allegory that recasts American foreign policy and the Mideast conflict as a scorching love affair seen through a diaphanous veil of popular culture stereotypes.
Dirty Story finds two lovers in a heated battle over a small apartment which becomes a clash over their historical claims to the property and their very rights to exist. Wanda (Rachael Klyce), a strong minded Jewish woman who wants to be called Israel, meets a successful Mideastern writer Brutus (Celik Kayalar) in the park at the beginning of the play. Wanda is an aspiring novelist who wants Brutus's opinion on her first novel. He trashes her novel while she in turn taunts him about his philosophy of life. It appears that a sadomasochistic relationship is going to start between them, since he invites her to his apartment for dinner.
Brutus dresses Wanda up as Pearl White in The Perils of Pauline and a series of sadomasochism, which includes a chainsaw, comes into play. Wanda is the victim and Brutus the ugly aggressor. However, an American cowboy Frank (Ben Hanfling) - you can guess who he represents - comes to the apartment to rescue the heroine. Wanda summarily dismisses the cowboy and finds a way to get the upper hand with the Mideastern novelist.
The second act becomes an allegory of the Israeli-Palestinian situation since Wanda now occupies most of Brutus's apartment. The large loft apartment has become a war zone with Brutus's articles being pushed further and further into a corner. Our naïve cowboy and his "kiss ass" English sidekick Watson (Michael Medici) come into the apartment in an attempt to reconcile the two occupants. They fail to adjudicate the situation.
Playwright John Patrick Shanley tries to wax philosophical the historical antagonism between the two old cultures in the meeting of Wanda and Brutus and it just does not work. The play features a lot of theoretical, philosophical talk about the power of description. Brutus gives longwinded dissertations about the current state on the narrative. He says "Haven't you read the news? Fiction is dead." The second scene is nothing but a game of pain and subjugation that supposes to be an archetypal tale being acted out.
Dirty Story's second act is much better and it becomes clear just how playfully funny and ferociously serious this play really is. The analogies are bluntly one to one with each of the four arguing over who owns what in the large loft apartment. The ending is a no win situation and the characters tell the audience to come back tomorrow and maybe a solution will be found.
Dirty Story has a cast that gives everything they've got. Celik Kayalar as the older writer who represents Palestine tends to use rapid fire speech in the first act as he expounds on the current state of narrative. Some of his solo speeches become lost and redundant. However, in the second act, he shines as he becomes angrily unhinged as the owner of the loft. Rachel Klyce is a standout as the Jewish grad student who learns to fight back. She shows she is one tough broad.
Ben Hanflight as a pudgy naive American cowboy is wonderful in the role. He has a pathetic charm about his him. He is a cross between George W. Bush and Uncle Sam and he says "I'm the best so that's what I sell." He is also very lonely up there at the top and his only friends are "bought and paid for." He is even mad at his English sidekick for he had to "pay double the price for tea years ago." Michael Medici has little to do as the sidekick but make droll remarks and remind everyone that he is the true sophisticate in the group. Dual directors Christian Phillips and Kenneth Vanderberg keep the actors on their toes with fast paced dialogue.
Dirty Story continues through December 20 at the Actors Theatre of San Francisco, 533 Sutter at Powell, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-296-9170.
Their next production will be the world premiere of Karen Macklin's Popping the Cherry which opens on January 23rd.