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Dirt (Raven Theatre)

Environmental issues are increasingly with us, with foods, chemicals, oil and coal and other fears-of-our-safety at the front of our consciousness. So, when artists begin to worry about all of us, we should pay rapt attention. But (a big but), art demands certain structures so that the emotional facts put in front of us shouldn’t come off as diatribes without the artifice that is live theatre, which is the basic problem with Bryony Lavery’s “Dirt”.

Set today, in some urban city, a mismatched couple, Harper (Mandy Levin) and Matt (Mark McClain Wilson), have a massive argument over dinner, waited upon by cynical Elle (Catherine Black), with Harper dying soon after (well, actually, at the beginning as the actress informs us). What killed her?  Probably life itself, but certainly the list of lethal ingredients in her hand-cream (if we got that right), plus her detergent and bleach, her food and water, probably the air itself; an entire litany of nasty ingredients that surround us daily, and which are next to impossible to both keep away from and unload from our blood and organs. The solution?  Think organic and non-GMOs.

Ann Bronstein, a fine director/actor, has a clear sense of Lavery’s message and has cast the production well. But actors and set/lighting/costuming cannot make dramatic what a play does not do for itself. 

Harper’s mother, May (Maia Danziner), Levin, Wilson, Black and a strange walking self-destruct, Guy (sexy Jack Krizmanich), do what they are supposed to do:  making their characters as honest and real as they can, but they are undercut by a script that is entirely way over-the-top, leaving us not caring very much about Harper’s dilemma and its impact on her lover, mother, and the wait-person who kissed her boyfriend after his fight with Harper. Dramatic events, well-written, but not terribly rewarding.

Bronstein moves everyone well, helping them with their characters’ intents, but with an incredibly dreary set in a small 44-seat space, and little emotionally to hold onto, the audience is mostly benumbed by the end. We need these messages about the fate of our planet and its impact on humans and other animals, but making it propaganda isn’t the most efficient way to communicate the reality.

“Dirt” plays through April 17 at the Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, 91601. Tickets: Come early as parking is weird; beware the exorbitant prices in the area.