A Rose By Any Other Name

The producers of Dirt made a clever point on opening night outside of The Players Theatre Loft Space on MacDougal Street. A young Arabic man was stationed outside, offering roses to folks as they passed on the street—“Roses for the lady?” The young man was likely giving them away, not selling them, but I couldn’t really tell, because virtually everyone who passed by dismissed him with a wave of the hand or an unintelligible grunt. Was it racism? Hard to tell. But unfriendly nonetheless. And that is the point of Dirt , a one-man play by Robert Schneider that premiered in Hamburg in 1993, in the wake of the first Gulf War. The play has been slightly updated to make it more contemporary. It confronts the twin problems of racism and illegal immigration—the immigrant’s need for respite and freedom and the Americans’ often not so secret desire to exclude him, and to crush him.

Christopher Domig gives a stellar performance, as “Sad,” a thirty-year old Iraqi rose peddler who has illegally immigrated to the United States, and has wound up in New York City. When we meet Sad, he hopes that he will be able to sell enough roses and that his lazy roommate, Nabil, can sell enough newspapers to have the electricity turned back on within three days.

The play is redundant and too long; it has been since it was first developed in 1992. It’s a replaying and often tedious loop of self-deprecation and self-degradation. Sad has internalized what he perceives as the West’s hatred for Arabic culture, and his every breath is rife with self-denunciation. He tells us over and over that he “knows” he has no right to use a public toilet or sit on a park bench, to speak with Americans, and that his race is “in a primitive stage of development,” that his head is too flat, his lips too thick, and that the urine of Arabs is more pungent than that of Americans. And that Americans are right for hating him. He recalls how, once, he was called “sir” when he used peroxide to lighten his hair and how he was genuinely moved, but self-disgusted, when a man actually declined his rose offer with a smile, looking directly into his eyes. Domig did an admirable job of projecting over the two blasting air conditioners at the back of the small black-box theater

The play would be far more effective at 30 minutes. Having said that, Domig never disappoints and does a valiant job of keeping the material fresh, despite its drawbacks. Without giving the ending away, let’s just say that it is symbolic and superb. Direction by Seattle-based David Robinson was appropriately restrained, and the spare set was haunting. Christopher Domig is one of the finest actors we’ve seen lately. Watch for big things from him in the future.

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