Dirty Deeds

The streets of New York are littered with aspiring actresses, running from audition to audition and answering casting calls of all kinds. And it is also a sad truth that many directors take advantage of the innocent hopefuls who meet them with stars in their eyes. Such a scenario provides the backdrop, but not the complete spine, of director Jessica Davis-Irons's befuddling production of The Director, from an overly ambitious script by Barbara Cassidy. Sadie (a very dedicated Lauren Shannon) frantically emerges as the show begins, rifling through a cache of cassette tapes. She is looking for one with the voice of The Director on it.

Though never seen, this titular character is a well-known filmmaker with a history of luring women with a lie about wanting to cast them in his movie. Of course, after he has his way with them, he moves on. Sadie, surprisingly, seems to have found herself in the position of becoming one of these naïve victims—and she will not stand for it.

Cassidy aims to accomplish a lot in The Director, but her play is so compressed (running little more than an hour) that she leaves many of her threads still unspooling by the end. She seems to want to say something about the power struggle between the sexes, and the abuses committed by men and women alike. Sadie tries to subvert The Director's advances by placing an advertisement in BackStage magazine to track down other women conned by him and then interview them. This provides opportunities for the cast members—who are from the Bats, the resident acting company of the Flea Theater, which is mounting this production—to share their stories in monologue form for the audience.

Cassidy doesn't state whether The Director has sex with all of these women, or merely leads them on, but it is apparent that the women all feel a sense of betrayal. For that matter, it is also never clear what Sadie's endgame is, and it does not really matter. Her efforts subvert their intended effect, as her life begins to unravel even further.

With such an enticing premise, The Director gets off to a very intriguing start. But no sooner has the play lifted off than it touches ground again. Both Cassidy's structure and Davis-Irons' blocking decisions contribute to the early burnout. The individual interviews begin too early in the play's action and occur sporadically. Some consistency among these "interview monologues" might have made The Director feel more cohesive.

An even more curious decision is a long, early scene in which Sadie and her friends watch an interview subject talk about The Director while they simply smoke and chug on malt liquor for minutes on end. Such inertia is a dramatist's nightmare, so I am unsure why Cassidy included it and allowed it to run on as long as it does.

At the very least, Davis-Irons could have involved the audience members more by showing them what Sadie sees, yet all they can see is the back of a television set. The result is boring and estranges the audience from the action very early on. Later scenes move at a much faster clip, and it's enough to give you whiplash. This is odd, given that Dustin O'Neill created video installations to accompany the interview monologues. Couldn't he have also come up with visuals for this scene as well?

Moreover, Davis-Irons's inability to reconcile Cassidy's multiple threads causes the production to meander. Sadie's crusade against The Director ultimately makes her a "director" of sorts too, but Cassidy never delves further into her need for power and control. The Director might have worked better as a revenge play, but instead it focuses on Snake (Donal Brophy), Sadie's jealous boyfriend, whose violence escalates in a predictably unsettling fashion. But it's not clear if this is the play's main plot or an accidental distraction. Both Brophy and Shannon are to be commended, though, for demonstrating an enviable amount of energy and fierceness in their roles.

Of all the Bats, Catherine Gowl grounds the show in her supporting role of Milton, a dry-humored woman who is one of The Director's conquests. Though Sadie is the one who hunts Milton down, it is Milton who develops strong, potentially romantic feelings, later on. Unfortunately, this development goes nowhere, and the next scene with both actresses features them merely as friends. Havilah Brewster also stands out as an aggressive interviewee; she throws her sinewy frame right into the audience's face.

These women tell similar stories: they answered The Director's call, openly flirted with him, then became outraged when he moved on to another woman. There is a very clear question here: Who is using whom? I am still waiting for the answer.

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