Theresa Rebeck’s ‘Dig’ Adds to a Most Promising Season for Female Playwrights

Loss looms large in ‘Dig,’ and Rebeck reminds us terrible things can happen even when care is taken. Yet ultimately it shows an unshakable faith in our ability, as the survivors, to endure — and, eventually, to regenerate.

James Leynse
Jeffrey Bean and Mary Bacon in 'Dig.' James Leynse

The fall theater season is just getting started, and already it’s promising to yield a rich crop of new American plays — in particular by female playwrights. The past week alone brought the New York and world premieres, respectively, of thoughtful, moving works by Rebecca Gilman and Annie Baker. Now, the latest from a veteran stage and screen scribe, Theresa Rebeck, has arrived off-Broadway, and it’s a gem.

Or perhaps a rose would be a better metaphor for “Dig,” Ms. Rebeck’s account of troubled souls connected by an independent plant store, one of many such small businesses across the country now struggling to survive. “There used to be so many little shops like this, all over,” a customer remarks, early in the play. “And now they’re gone.” 

Loss, of both people and things, looms large in “Dig.” Christopher and Justin Swader’s set for the production — which is directed, superbly, by the playwright — spills over with lush horticulture, but the first item brought to our attention is a nearly dead elephant ear. “I will save this plant,” the shop’s middle-aged owner, Roger, vows to his longtime colleague, Lou, whose carelessness has seemingly caused its decline.

Yet as Ms. Rebeck will remind us over the next two hours (including intermission), terrible things can happen even when care is taken and the best of intentions are applied. As the play opens, Lou’s daughter, Megan, is recovering from a rehab stint and a suicide attempt, the fallout of an unspeakable tragedy that has also made her a neighborhood pariah. 

“I embarrass him,” Megan tells Roger, referring to her father. “Don’t bother denying it. It wouldn’t matter even if you did. The truth is the truth and if you try to get around it, it will come after you and take you down.”

Those words will resonate after Roger reluctantly allows Megan to begin doing chores around the shop, and the two gradually forge a bond. Roger, too, is isolated and haunted; though his background is made deliberately vague, it’s clear that his cranky pragmatism and obsession with plants over people are in part repressive strategies.

The veteran theater and television actor Jeffrey Bean brings a glowing humaneness to this elusive character; his amusing, affecting Roger will pique both your curiosity and your compassion. Andrea Syglowski’s Megan can be as drily funny in some moments as she is heartbreaking in others, and Triney Sandoval manages to lend wit and nuance to the rough-edged, easily flustered Lou.

Greg Keller gets a few laughs, at least initially, as a truck driver and marijuana enthusiast whose shaky rapport with Roger, his boss, is threatened by Megan’s increasing influence, and David Mason makes a deep, dark impression as Megan’s ex- in a brief but harrowing scene. Mary Bacon adds levity and a slow-building warmth as a local woman who comes to regard Megan with sympathy after first shunning her, as so many others have.

“You are not responsible for the fact that things die,” Roger assures Megan at one point; hardly consoled, she responds, “Not things. People.” “Okay, people,” he concedes. “Neighborhoods. Hope. Children.”

Yet what “Dig” ultimately conveys, in Ms. Rebeck’s dialogue and her actors’ vital performances and the greenery with which they share the stage, is an unshakable faith in our ability, as the survivors, to endure — and, eventually, to regenerate.

The New York Sun

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