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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 14, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 20
Nature of Dust gives audiences a new perspective
Arts & Entertainment
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Nature of Dust gives audiences a new perspective

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

On the Nature of Dust
New Century Theatre Company
Through May 30


New Century Theatre Company is presenting a world-premiere play, On the Nature of Dust, by their company playwright, Stephanie Timm. This lyrical and enchanting play has been in development for the last several years, including an intensive summer treatment through the Icicle Creek Theatre Festival in 2008, in association with ACT Theatre. Timm is best known for two prior works, Frankenocchio and Crumbs Are Also Bread. Seattle can look forward to more work from this talented, hard-working writer soon, with more workshop development in the offing.

On the Nature of Dust is a reflection about humans and their rightful place in the universe. Are we animals with imagination, or are we more than animals - something special? Timm uses a completely fanciful premise to explore this: a devolving (yes, the opposite of evolving) teenager.

Clara Bliss (Brenda Joyner) is a normal teenager with "mom" problems. Her mom, Shirley (Amy Thone), isn't a terribly great mom. She forgets to pay the electric bill unless Clara reminds her, and loves to smoke weed. Shirley also loves men and makes no effort to hide her serial sexual appetite from her daughter. But aside from these kinds of issues, they love each other. Clara has a new boyfriend (Benjamin Harris) and likes both church and school. Her pastor (Michael Patten) and biology teacher (Betsy Schwartz) both like her a lot.

Then, one day, Clara turns into a chimpanzee. Shirley is forced to figure out how to feed her and keep her safe, until Clara turns into a giant squirrel, and then a bird, and then a newt. Clara's pastor and teacher and mother try to figure out how to handle these changes. Shirley gets the most support and good advice from Clara's boyfriend, Bernie, who works at a pet shop and can help Shirley with the right foods and supplies for each animal transformation.

Pastor Ken and teacher Vivian debate what these changes mean from their opposite perspectives of religion and science. But neither can really explain what is happening, demonstrating the limits of both perspectives to the audience. An amusing result happens when they argue each other into changing to the other's perspective entirely.

A spare set by Etta Lilienthal includes a lovely backscreen of sky, flanking a doorway. The interior floor is a carpet of grass, continuing the living with nature theme. Gentle lighting by Robert Aguilar helps augment the lyrical mood. The process of devolution is done with great ingenuity and Joyner's great physical dexterity.

Solidly directed by Kathleen Collins, the five cast members are all well-fit for their parts. Harris and Joyner are adorable together as young teen crushes, and Harris is seriously earnest as he tries to support Shirley in her quest to take care of Clara. Thone brings range and depth to the role of the mother who has to grow up and evolve as her daughter becomes more and more helpless.

Beyond Clara's form as a newt, she changes another couple of times and her life is threatened due to the changes. Shirley has to come to a terrible choice as she realizes that the only way to support her daughter is to entirely let her go. Parents, in particular, will feel that moment deeply. Take a chance on the Bliss family and experience nature. For more information, go to www.newcenturytheatrecompany.org or www.acttheatre.org or call 206-292-7676.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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