(L-R): Stephanie Janssen, Alex Draper and Megan Byrne in a 'light gathering of dust'.
Photo by: Stan Barouh

Reviewed: July 16, 2011
Venue: Atlantic Stage 2
Producers: Potomac Theater Project
Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes, with intermission

Creative Team:
Written by Steven Dykes
Directed by Cheryl Faraone
Set Design by Hallie Zieselman
Costume Design by Emma Ermotti/Lilli Stein
Lighting Design by Mark Evancho
Sound Design by Hallie Zieselman

a light gathering of dust
Alex Draper as 3
Megan Byrne as 2
Stephanie Janssen as 1

The Spoils
Alex Draper as Shilling, an interpreter
Nesba Crenshaw as Loti, a secretary
Cori Hundt as Tala, a secretary
Gillian Durkee as Dobra, a secretary
Lilli Stein as Kyat, a secretary

Stage Managers: Michael Block, Melissa Nathan, Alex Mark

The Geographies of Betrayal

Territories by playwright Steven Dykes is a diptych of plays, a light gathering of dust and Spoils. Each play reflects the other's concerns about trust and betrayal, and the practice of both in oppressive political situations. While Spoils is over-long and uncertain of its target, a light gathering of dust hits more closely to home with its story of distrust and desire.

a light gathering of dust takes its historical cue from the public airing of the secret files of the Stasi, the East German secret police, when the two Germanys were unified in 1990. People could read their files, though names and other information had been black-lined out, and it was estimated that 2% of the population coƶperated with the Stasi to inform upon people close to them.

Director Cheryl Faraone strews the stage with hundred of redacted documents to indicate this time and place, and at times the actors paw through them to read about themselves, remarking that the obsessive detail ("pornographic," one character calls it) mirrors back to them lives they do not recognize, though they are clearly their own.

The story at the heart of a light gathering of dust concerns a triangle of lovers among two women and a man, and how one of the women decides to inform upon the other two. The reason for her betrayal is both personal and political -- in fact, under the constant pressure of surveillance, it is impossible to unknot the two. What the opening of the files does is fill the air with the dust that comes from excavated secrets, breathed in and breathed out, and these three are forced to unify within themselves what the reunified Germany tells them about who they were, are, and hope to be.

(On a side note, the play begins with a wonderfully mysterious and evocative theatrical image. Alex Draper is on a bed, belly-down, wearing nothing but underwear. Before Stephanie Janssen begins her monologue, Megan Byrne enters, leans over, and with a gentle breath blows a thin scrim of dust off his skin, which swirls away in the light.)

Spoils is set in a recently conquered unnamed desert country, where Shilling (Alex Draper), an interrogator who speaks the local language, questions four women who worked as secretaries in various ministries. It is never quite clear what he wants from them, though it has to do with learning about how the party, to which all functionaries belonged, encouraged both loyalty and treachery.

Shilling is also interested in the degree to which art (in the guise of a musical composition by Paul Englishby), allied with interrogation, can redeem and re-grace those who have sinned. He not only wants information; he wants their salvation, too.

Each of the five characters gets a good chunk of stage time to talk about himself or herself, and while it isn't always clear how the long renditions link to Mr. Dykes' purpose, they are all expertly delivered, with Mr. Draper's disquisitions on the structure and meaning of the music conveyed with his usual masterful skill.

As is always the case with anything the Potomac Theatre Project creates, the production values are excellent, the direction is sure-handed, and the acting is vibrant, spacious, and assured. In a light gathering of dust, Mr. Dykes strikes the right balance between revelation and mystery, and it is a delight to watch the ease with which the three actors navigate the time and emotional shifts of the play. In Spoils, Mr. Dykes has all the elements for a sharp, ironic take on the distorted dance of power, principle, and truth. He just needs to take that play within the play that he has and edit it into the daylight.

Michael Bettencourt