Review of The Dust at Washington University

    Washington University’s Performing Arts Department recently presented the United States premiere of The Dust, a 2013 play from Taiwan by Hsu Yen Ling, in a specially commissioned translation by Washington U. Ph.D. alumna, Annelise Finegan.

    The Dust has six short scenes. The characters in “Photographs and Bloodlines” are a mother and her 26-year-old son. She has come to his office to meet him for the first time. The encounter is understandably awkward.

    In “Premonition,” a plastic surgeon and his wife are at odds over her desire to have genetic testing for a debilitating disease (based on a premonition) and his reluctance to perform a procedure she wants. Sometimes the exchanges are very intimate. At other times, they are oddly at cross purposes.

    “Virtual Singer” is about a mid-concert crisis of confidence that afflicts a singer who is famous for imitating another singer. Her producer struggles to persuade the singer to continue.

    “Lend Me Mars” begins with an encounter between the equivalents of Adam and Eve on Mars, who have emigrated from Earth. Eve is thoroughly confused, and Adam tries to explain what has happened. One of his revelations is that she is pregnant. Eventually this scene segues into another in which Eve is a surrogate mother about to give birth to Adam’s child. She sees an opportunity in the absence of Adam’s wife.

    “Rodin’s Sculptures” begins with characters A and B touring an art museum. Then they are under a starry sky. They have profound conversations about elusive topics.

    In “Buying a Loaf of Bread/Twenty-Five Years,” a student receives a visit from an old man who says he used to live in that apartment. One day he went out to buy a loaf of bread. When he returned, his key wouldn’t work. At the police station, he was told he had been missing for 25 years. The student has a strange story, too, about compulsive drawing and painting. The old man’s story changes, but somehow the two find a place of concord.

    The structure of these scenes is fragmentary rather than linear. According to the translator’s program note, “the play suspends us within an exploded moment in time, showing us how fear and alienation fray the tenuous bonds of relationships that form our social fabric.”

    Guided by William Whitaker’s direction and Elinor Harrison’s choreography, the admirable Washington U. actors speak and move with stylization that suits the way the play presents the action. The cast includes:

    • Zack Berger as the Doctor
    • Ben Faden as A
    • Michael Gao as the son and Adam
    • Yan Ma as the mother and the singer
    • Hope McKinney as the wife and B
    • Em Powers as the producer and the old Man
    • Bei Qi as Eve and the student

    The production benefited greatly from elaborate effects provided throughout the show by lighting and projections designer Sean Savoie and sound designer Zach Cohn. Also contributing notably were scenic designer Patrick Huber, costume designer Dominique Green, props designer Cameron Tesson, and technical director Jack Rushen.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Jack Rushen Photography
    Bei Qi as Eve in
    The Dust