NY Theater Review By Elizabeth Ahlfors
“What is your story?” Dirt, is the story of Sad, an Iraqi-born rose peddler played with stunning immediacy by Christopher Domig. Sad is one of the illegals struggling on the fringes of society, isolated by circumstances, invisible, always tenuous, questioning his life and his self-worth. Written by Austrian playwright Robert Schneider, Dirt condenses one man’s experiences and values, his pathos, his fury and fear, spotted with engaging bursts of humor and humanity.
Sad is thirty years old today. He makes it clear at the start that despite his name, he is not sad. With a family still in Iraq, his New York City home is a humble room with a chair, a table, and a mattress on the floor. He has one friend in the next room whom we never meet. There is no mailbox, no name on the door, no doorbell. He does not want to attract attention.
At the end of the day, as Sad trims roses for the next day, he talks about his life, revealing the isolation he feels, the racism around him, and the absence of conversation. Part of his isolation is self-imposed, coming from fear that his illegal status will be threatened. Another part is the distance from western society because of his dark skin and his Arab identity. Recognizing this, he still speaks glowingly about America and the English language, aware that he is lucky to be in the safety and comfort of this country and well aware of the rights he enjoys, and those he does not have. He loves the shop windows, shining with Windex. He likes the park benches around the city, but never sits on them just as he never touches the shop windows. That is not his right, he believes. Having to swallow his resentment toward people who don’t even look him in the eye gradually promotes his personal self-loathing.
Sad is a complex personality, and Austrian born actor Christopher Domig delivers an affability interwoven with the intensity of fierce despair and dehumanization. His performance is gripping but never exaggerated. He speaks directly to the audience, often to singular viewers, drawing a connection. His likability makes it easy to fall under the spell of his story, although some of it is contradictory and repetitive. He admits, “I like to talk. I tell stories. I lie. It is an innate thing with me. I have to talk. It passes the time at night.” Slowly, his conflicted feelings and memories lead to a somewhat blurred ending.
Domig won Best Actor award for his role in Dirt at the New York International Fringe Festival. He also performed it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Vancouver Fringe Festival, and in London and Berlin. Director Mary Catherine Burk keeps tension tight on set designer Edward K. Ross’s room resembling a cardboard box. Lighting by Dan Jobbins and Steve Brush’s sound design add street sounds and costume designer Hunter Kaczorowski dresses Sad in drab clothing. Robert Schneider’s original 1993 German play was translated into English by Paul Dvorak.
Dirt is a self-portrait of Sad and also the story of others who live in the shadows. It is a terse work that makes one uneasy, at times disturbing enough to make us acknowledge the hidden society of 12 million living and working around us every day and even wonder, “What are their stories and what do their stories mean to us?”
Dreck Theatre Ensemble’s Dirt runs from September 18, 2014 to October 12, 2014 at The 4th Street Theater (83 East 4th Street, between Bowery and Second Avenue). Opening night was Sunday, September 21 at 7:30 PM and runs 70 minutes. Tickets, $20, are on sale at http://theplaydirt.brownpapertickets.com.