Hiding Behind Comets
In a small bar in a small town in the middle of nowhere in California, just before one of the most cruel acts of violence ever inflicted upon America, two young people are faced with a terrifying possibility and an ethical dilemma about the nature of evil. And this, my beloved readers (both of you hi, Mum! Hi, Pop!), is pretty much the most I can tell you about the plot of Brian Dykstra's intriguing new drama/thriller/morality play Hiding Behind Comets. I can't explain the title. I can't even reveal what the ethical dilemma is. This is the kind of play where you want nothing spoiled for you, and I won't do you any disfavors.
So, without revealing too much, what can I tell you about Hiding Behind Comets? I can tell you that it's at 29th Street Rep., so you can safely assume that there's plenty of sex and violence. 29th Street Rep. is famous for presenting shocking and audacious theatre, and this play certainly lives up to that tradition. Perhaps too well: the play is more shocking than it needs to be. For example, the cynical Honey, as played by the intense Moira MacDonald, enjoys unnerving strangers with her frank talk of sex specifically, her nearly incestuous relationship with her twin brother. There is really little need for all her graphic talk her character is quickly established, and the rest feels like filler that is meant to disturb the audience. It doesn't. Cole, the stranger to whom she confesses her indiscretions, even calls her on her desire to shock. I am genuinely not sure, however, if this is Cole pointing out Honey's lack of substance, or Dykstra acknowledging his play's weakness. Since there is little reason offered for Honey to be so crass, and since her vulgarity adds comparatively little to the play, I'll have to lean towards the latter.
But that all can be quickly forgiven, because Act One ends with an explosive monologue that shocks not through gimmick, but by simple substance. Just as the greatest Greek tragedies horrified their audiences two millennia ago, Dykstra scores his best bull's-eyes when he leaves the violence offstage and deftly sneaks it into the minds of his audience. When Dan Moran, as Cole, stands still and bluntly describes ruthless acts of violence, he commands more attention in the five minute scene than the previous forty minutes of graphic sex talk. Whereas the beginning of the play tries too hard to offend, the second half generates genuine and abundant chills by focusing on true, horrifying issues rather than on mere titillation. By the time the lights rose on an intermission that exists only to let the audience catch its collective breath (and steady their nerves with a quick drink from the concession stand), I was trembling. By the end of Act Two, my knees were shaking too hard to let me walk. It's been a long time since a play left me that rattled.
The many strengths of Dykstra's script are helped by David Mogentale's tight direction and some very strong performances by the cast of four. The lovely Amber Gallery makes the small role of Erin memorable through sheer force of will. Robert Mollohan and Moira MacDonald have very good chemistry as the twins Honey and Troy, and if Troy is rather less interesting than Honey, that's probably more the character's problem than Mollohan's. MacDonald is simply astonishing as Honey, especially when the character drops her cynical mask and allows her true emotions to explode forth. And then there's Dan Moran. As Cole, the violent stranger with a nightmare past, Moran is a tightly-wound spring that may snap at any second. The fact that he never loses his grip on the character's tension throughout his extensive time onstage speaks volumes about his skill as a performer.
Hiding Behind Cometsis a diamond in the rough, but I'm not entirely sure it should be polished. Somehow, having to wait through the obvious efforts to shock and offend, the extraneous subplots, and the somewhat heavy-handedness of the moral arguments makes finding the treasure at the heart of this piece much more rewarding. Brian Dykstra has crafted a truly harrowing and thought-provoking play, the kind that gets under your skin and continues to pester your soul for days after the house lights come up. Cases are made, issues are debated, and as in true life, there is no right answer. That, perhaps, is the most terrifying aspect of all.