by Gail M. Burns
“Theresa Rebeck is a fierce defender of the right to bear witness, an organizer, a galvanizer always willing to take big risks for the good of the theater. She is a powerhouse and a star of the first magnitude, and everybody knows it.” – Paula Vogel
In the summer of 2019 – in the “Before Times” – this writer was privileged to review “Dig,” a new play by Theresa Rebeck, at the Dorset Theatre Festival in Vermont. It was an astonishing production that left a big impact on me – and on Patrick White who was there reviewing for Nippertown. We have talked about the production a few times since, so I was not surprised to see that he would be directing a production of “Dig” as the season premiere for his Harbinger Theatre.
Founded during the pandemic, Harbinger seeks to produce impactful work by underrepresented playwrights creating more opportunities for all – participants, audiences, and play makers. While Rebeck is a prolific and successful playwright, “Dig” has not yet been published, nor has it had it’s official “world premiere.” With the possibility of an off-Broadway production looming, White’s production, while presented with Rebeck’s blessings, cannot be reviewed.
Rebeck’s plays are mysteries – not in the Agatha Christie Who-Dun-It? Mold, but with a subtle introduction of pieces of the puzzle over the course of the play which build both tension and audience involvement. What will happen next? Which shoe will drop? What sudden insight will we glean that illuminates plot and character?
Rebeck earned her Ph.D. from Brandeis University in Victorian era melodrama, and while “Dig” is set in the here and now, the playwright employs several key aspects of that bygone genre to build and maintain suspense.
There is a murder that figures large in the plot, but that’s not what this play is about. It is about a woman – Megan, played by Laura Graver – and how she allows the men in her life to dictate who and what she is. It is a fascinating psychological portrait of her, and of them.
“This is an exciting, thrilling play that is brand new to regional audiences,” White explained. “It will wake you up to the possibilities of growth and how people can change, but not in a cozy way.” Set in a withering plant shop called DIG, growth is an unspoken theme of the play.
“’Dig’ is also a tough play. It takes a harsh look at people,” White continued. “The actors judge their characters and other people’s characters. All people surprise you with their good and bad sides. These characters are acting out of their needs. They are not saints…some of them are criminals.”
As White wrote In his 2019 review: “‘Dig’ is a thorny, urgent howl for compassion, understanding, and honesty both with ourselves and with our dealings with others as a matter of life and death consequence.”
After seeing production in 2019, White contacted Dina Janis, who was the Artistic Director of the Dorset Theatre Festival at the time “Dig” was produced, and she helped him get in touch with the playwright’s agent. Rebeck has a home in Dorset, and several of her plays have been produced there. She has tweeted her best wishes to the Harbinger cast, and is very excited about the gorgeous poster artwork, created for Harbinger by SLCA graphic artist Emily Klein, who just earned her Ph.D. in engineering from RPI.
“I’ve used the play with my Acting Class. Then I submitted it last year to my Harbinger board and it was a unanimous choice for this season,” White explained. This production will be the play’s Capital District premiere – as were all of the company’s previous shows – and all of the actors are making their Harbinger debuts.
“Harbinger is very excited and honored to be working and learning from our colleagues, the Circle Theater Players at Sand Lake Center for the Arts for this production,” White said, highlighting this first ever collaboration between the two non-profits. An an independent artist, White has directed four previous productions at SLCA. “My hope is that Harbinger can keep growing, introduce new audiences to new actors, and to plays and playwrights they may never have been exposed to before.”
Harbinger Theatre presents “Dig” by Theresa Rebeck, directed by Patrick White at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts (SLCA), located at 2880 New York 43 Averill Park, NY, on April 21, 22, 28, and 29 at 8 pm, and on April 23 and 30 at 2:30 pm, with a free preview performance on April 20.
CAST: Laura Graver as Megan. Adam Coons as Roger, Marquis Heath as Everett, Michael Gialanella as Lou, Amber Acosta as Molly, and TJ Collins as Adam.
There will be talkbacks after the performances on Friday, April 21, and Friday, April 28.