It’s not often that a play deals with the death of the main character, Harper, and the aftermath of that death from those that love her and can best be described as a comedy, but that is what Dirt – now playing at Studio Theatre – has accomplished. Dirt, is an entertaining and enjoyable show that has excellent performances by Holly Twyford, Matthew Montelongo, and Natalia Payne as our three main characters. However, the second act seemed confused as to what it intended to be. If you go by the closing moments you might think it was a whodunit with respect to Harper’s demise; however, the reason why Harper died was never a compelling mystery. The other description and more fitting one would be a drama and watching Harper’s boyfriend come to grips with her demise.
Harper, tells the audience from the beginning of the show that she is going to die that night. The story is told not only through the interactions of the characters, but also through the internal dialogues of the characters, which are differentiated by the characters speaking of themselves in the third person. The first act centers around Harper’s final night and her date with her tightly wound boyfriend Matt of three years. Harper, as apparently is typical for her, arrives late for the date angering Matt and setting off an all to uncomfortable and yet humorous and passionate evening between the two of them. Throw into the mix Elle, their actress/waitress…or is that waitress/actress…who steals the show during the dinner with her internal dialogue taking us through her various acting talents while she takes the order and serves the meal. Not unexpectedly, Harper dies at the end of the first act after Matt has left her apartment for the evening.
Harper stays with us in Act II as what can be best described as her spirit. I give the show much credit for not going down the cliched highway of a dead or dying character lamenting their life. Instead, Harper’s spirit is more intrigued as to why she died and what was happening to her body now that she was dead, and not what Harper did or did not accomplish in life. Meanwhile, Matt is dealing with the aftermath of the fight at their last date and then upon discovering Harper’s body strikes up a relationship with Elle after having shared a cigarette break moment with her during that final dinner with Harper. If anything, the character you feel most sympathetic for is Elle, partly because she is the most likeable character in the show and also because she is now drawn into this drama not of her own doing. Yet here she is in a relationship with a man who just lost his long-term girlfriend.
The playing out of that relationship would seem to be an appropriate way to end the show and completely satisfying. However, seemingly out of nowhere the mystery of why Harper died becomes front and center for the show. Sure, knowing what took Harper’s life is part of the story, but it was just part of the story. Somehow, in the waning moments of the show the cause of Harper’s death was made to feel as if it was the central theme of the show. And perhaps looking back it is an undercurrent to the entire show, but it was not what drove this story forward. The driving force of the story was Harper’s death, not the cause of the death.
Despite this somewhat abrupt right turn at the end of the show, it was an entertaining show, especially for those that like more challenging theater fare.