Ten Thousand Things Theater Company’s signature spare style creates a world out of bits and pieces.
That holds true for its production of Kira Obolensky’s “Dirt Sticks,” which opened for its public run last weekend. A rolled-up blanket becomes a baby, a box and a strip of cloth stand in for a waterfall, a pieced-together ladder conjures a factory.
“Dirt Sticks” is the third play of Obolensky’s to be produced by Ten Thousand Things, following “Raskol” and “Vasa Lisa,” and the first since she began a three-year writer’s residency with the company.
The play spins a ghost story of sorts. Many years previously, Rose Wand plunged off a waterfall to her death, leaving behind an infant boy. Eighteen years later, her son, Henry, and her sister, Maggy, are stuck in a sort of stasis, unable to move beyond the loss that haunts them. Enter a mysterious peddler, whose sly promise of a glimpse of the future opens up the mystery of Rose’s death and forces both Henry and Maggy to redefine themselves.
Obolensky’s play laces the lyrical with the broadly comic as it explores the concept that, as one character puts it, “the dead don’t rest with an untold story.” The subject matter is dark at times, but under Michelle Hensley’s able direction and with the help of a strong ensemble, the treatment is not. These characters may be facing lost chances, troubling mysteries and uncertain fates, but they are still quick with the quips and ready with the sight gags.
Case in point is Kimberly Richardson, who plays Miss Laurel, another orphan under Maggy Wand’s care. With the body language of a jittery, strung-out acrobat on speed, a face as malleable as a rubber mask and a herky-jerky comic delivery, she steals every scene she’s in, if not the entire show. It’s an idiosyncratic and oddly endearing performance.
Another standout is Stephen Cartmell, as the raggedy peddler whose arrival in Ladder Town is the spark that sets this story in motion. He’s pure flimflam man, hawking his wares with a staccato patter as he teeters on the edge of exasperation. Sun Mee Chomet as the mischievous ghost of Rose Wand, H. Adam Harris as Henry, and Thomasina Petrus as the embittered Maggy round out the cast nicely.
All along the wild ride that is “Dirt Sticks,” the cast invites the audience in with cleverly crafted interaction that emphasizes the immediacy of the experience. From simple sidelong glances and knowing looks to wooden birds that alight on spectators’ heads and babies that appear under their seats, Ten Thousand Things never lets the audience forget that we’re all in this together.
Lisa Brock writes about theater.