One of the most magical things about theatre for me has always been its ability to transcend my current experience and create a deeper understanding of other situations I perhaps haven’t been exposed to, haven’t thought about in depth, or don’t fully understand. Whether the goal of the play is to whisk the audience away to a magical world or to inspire discourse on a particular subject, productions that allow me to immerse myself fully in the world of the play are always the most powerful for me to watch. Based on my conversation with director Liz Hobbs, Punctuate! Theatre’s new production of Dirt by Ron Chambers, running February 19 – 24, falls solidly on the side of inspiring conversation.
According to Liz, the play centres on Murphy – a “super dislikeable asshole” – who is accused of killing his girlfriend. “They end up setting up this bizarre situation where the two cops who are in charge of the investigation hire someone to be a live-in guard for him while they collect evidence for the trial. They hire this woman who is completely unqualified [for the job]… It becomes apparent over the course of the play that it is unlikely that Murphy killed his girlfriend and this play tips from being about the murder to being a social exposé on how we treat people who are less fortunate than ourselves, who are in the welfare system or the criminal system.”
Sticking with Punctuate! Theatre’s goal of producing local work, Dirt was written by Albertan playwright Ron Chambers in 1993 and first produced in 1996. If you remember your Albertan history, you’ll recognize those dates as being the early years of Ralph Klein’s Progressive Conservative government which is, in part, known for its drastic cutbacks to Alberta’s social supports. Liz says even though the play was written 21 years ago, it still resonates with her, given the current political and social climate in Canada. “It’s an Albertan play written during the Klein government when [the government] was making cutbacks to the social programs across the board and the welfare state in Alberta was rapidly dying. I feel that very conservative, capitalist mentality [of the Klein government] has expanded outside of Alberta and is now in our federal government as well… We haven’t really moved forward at all in the way we treat welfare recipients and our prison system has gone from bad to worse under the Harper government. [There is a] general disregard for anybody who isn’t buying into the overall capitalist drive. I find that offensive and I think the play exposes the ridiculousness of the capitalistic “everyone for themselves, we’re not bringing anyone with us” mentality. It’s that idea that if you’re not contributing to the capitalist society then you’re expendable. If you’re not being “worthwhile” then you’re expendable in our society.”
Dirt runs at the TACOS Space (10005 81 Avenue) February 19 – 24. The show is performed by two actors who were in the original production – Rebecca Starr and Jeff Page – as well as Elliot James, Andréa Jorawsky and Cliff Kelly. Dirt‘s full schedule can be found on YEGLive. Tickets are $15 – $20 and can be bought at Tix on the Square.
– Jenna Marynowski
This preview was also published on After the House Lights.