Violent seems a feeble adjective to describe "Dorothy," the drama by Irish playwright Graham Reid that is receiving its American premiere at the New Arts Theatre.
Not only do Reid's characters abuse and debase one another psychologically, they also engage in appalling physical acts of torture and rape. Forthrightly. Without apology or remorse. There isn't a glimmer of hope on the horizon. There is only blood.
By comparison, the savagery in such American dramas as "Extremities" and "Streamers" looks like child's play. It seems fairly redundant to say that none but the strong of stomach need go knocking at the New Arts Theatre door this month.
The title character is a Belfast housewife who drinks like a fish, dresses like a tramp, smokes like a chimney and behaves disagreeably with her husband and son, who are disagreeable right back. Her empty, booze-soaked days are vastly preferable to what Reid has in store for her, however. While her husband and son are away for the weekend, their comfy middle-class house is invaded by three ruthless rapists. Let it be said only that the ensuing action is as graphic and protracted as you are likely to see on a stage; that it is profoundly distasteful; and that, as staged by John Neville-Andrews, it is also cringingly convincing.
Dorothy may be the least sympathetic of heroines, but her assailants are such unmitigated beasts that you end up on her side. No one should have to go through the hell she goes through. That, in fact, may be the unspoken point to this cold drama, which does nothing more than chronicle in sledgehammer terms one woman's victimization. There is no spoken point, though we are given to understand that "Dorothy" is a microcosm of Northern Ireland today -- a society trapped in escalating violence, random bloodletting and mindless revenge. "Dorothy is Ireland and Ireland is Dorothy," says Neville-Andrews in a program note.
Perhaps. The play is so assertively brutal that its metaphorical implications do not exactly leap to the fore. Having chosen this alienating drama, however, the New Arts Theatre certainly sticks to its guns with a production that bars very few holds. Mary Ellen Nester makes the transformation of Dorothy from shrill, self-centered tart to bruised and deadened victim exhaustingly real. The intruders are equally persuasive. Marty Lodge plays their ulcer-ridden leader with chilling control, and the sheer size of Richard Pelzman is intimidating. But the scariest of all may be Martin Goldsmith, who hides his lethal impulses under the reserved, bespectacled fac,ade of a retiring university student.
Sarah Pleydell is properly wishy-washy as Dorothy's self-righteous sister. And there are also acceptable performances from Norman Aronovic and Michael Wells, as Dorothy's husband and son, although the roles struck me as psychologically strained.
Fine-tuned psychology, however, seems to be the least of Reid's concerns. Everything about "Dorothy" is rough and raw. I am willing to believe that its goriness is, indeed, a reflection of the disturbing climate in Northern Ireland. I nonetheless left the New Arts Theatre with the impression what I'd just witnessed bears an unsavory kinship to a low-budget slasher film out of Hollywood.
Dorothy, by Graham Reid. Directed by John Neville-Andrews. Set, Michael Layton; lighting, Christopher Townsend; costumes, Jane Schloss Phelan. With Mary Ellen Nester, Sarah Pleydell, Norman Aronovic, Michael Wells, Martin Goldsmith, Richard Pelzman, Marty Lodge. At the New Arts Theatre through May 3.