Anthony J. Piccione
- New York Theatre Critic
Nearly anyone who was alive and conscious on September 11th, 2001 will tell you they remember where they were on that day. While I was only eight years old at the time, even I still remember seeing it on TV – and the reactions of everyone surrounding me – when it happened. My memory is even clearer of the aftermath in the succeeding years: the blind patriotism and trust in government among the vast majority of Americans, the pro-war propaganda of the Bush administration, and on the other side, persisting conspiracy theories surrounding who was really responsible for the collapse of the World Trade Center. All of these are the themes that A Blanket of Dust – the new play by Richard Squires – explores in a very personal and thought-provoking manner.
The play tells the story of a woman named Diana Crane (Angela Pierce from the Broadway hit OSLO) who loses her husband on 9/11, and in the aftermath, is driven toward the belief that the Bush administration – rather than terrorists – had been responsible for the tragic deaths of her husband, and of the remaining 3000 people. Along the way, she meets a political activist named Andrew Black (Tommy Schrider from TV’s The Americans and War Horse on Broadway), and as events progress further, Diana finds herself fighting for her individual liberties, and caught in a situation that could lead to her being imprisoned, if not dead.
While I’m personally not a believer in the conspiracy theories that are delved into in this play, I do admire the way in which it deals with topics of government corruption and suppression of free speech, and how it provides a much needed reminder of a time – one that was not too long ago – when our leaders exploited the public’s patriotism and prejudices to take us into a long and prolonged conflict in the Middle East, the consequences of which – no matter how you spin it – we’re still dealing with today. In the midst of the divisive and controversial presidency of Donald Trump, it sometimes seems all too easy for some to forgive and forget the sins of past leaders, which is why works like this – however imperfect they might be, at capturing an objective reality of those terrible deeds – are much needed, so that the memory of that period in history does not go unforgotten.
Staged at the Flea Theatre in a relatively minimalistic fashion, with an all white set design, the production relies primarily on its cast – a mix of Broadway and Off-Broadway veterans – to bring the show to life. Among the better casting choices are those of Diana’s parents, portrayed by Anthony Newfield and two-time Tony nominee Alison Fraser, respectively. Each of them brings a certain level of emotion and authenticity to their respective roles. Brad Bellamy also stands out as being convincingly evil and power hungry in the role of Andrew’s father, Adam Black. For the most part, however, the entire cast – including Ms. Pierce – feels simply mediocre, and often unconvincingly emotional, in this production. As far as I’m concerned, this shows that not even the past experience of being on Broadway is a recipe for success in any given show. One particularly bad casting choice which stands out is James Patrick Nelson as Diana’s brother Charlie, whose tone-deaf voice feels off and distracting during some otherwise emotional and intense moments between the family, over the course of the play. This is all rather unfortunate, as I felt a piece like this deserved a stronger ensemble. Not that it’s the worst I’ve seen, but still, I couldn’t help but leave the theater feeling rather underwhelmed by a cast that perhaps wasn’t fully invested in such an intense story.
For my previously mentioned reasons, with regards to the topics confronted in this play, I think this play still deserves to be seen by theatergoers, due to the conversation it’s bound to spark among audience members. I personally could see it being adapted for the screen, and potentially going on to be a very successful film, albeit on the condition that some of the casting decisions were corrected. I encourage you all to go see this show, decide for yourself on those areas, and no matter what, be prepared to think back and reflect on some recent historical events that still feel relevant, over a decade later…
“A Blanket of Dust” runs at the Flea Theatre from June 12th-30th. For more information, please visit www.ablanketofdust.com.