John Kishline and
Isabelle Kralj in Theatre Gigante's "Dust."
It’s not an unusual sight these days, a golden age for public displays of elation in contests and games of chance. People win big prizes on American Idol, The Biggest Loser, or Publisher’s Clearing House, and the camera catches unguarded moments of exaltation and triumph. They scream, jump, hug anyone close to them. Whether it’s a $100,000, a record contract, or a new hot tub, they are completely taken over by the consummation of self and prize.
But watch John Kishline in the early moments of Theatre Gigante’s Dust, playing a character who tells his wife they won the multi-million dollar lottery. There’s a desperation in this joy, a history behind the jubilation. Kishline—undoubtedly with the help of the show’s director Mark Anderson—suggests not only the abundance to come, but also the memory of the dark days the couple leaves behind.
This is a play, after all, by a Hungarian playwright about Hungarian people, who are old enough to have lived through the hard, hard times of communist rule.
We are privy to those memories as the couple talks about their post-lottery future. The wife, played with a steel edge by Isabelle Kralj, recalls the hardscrabble life they have lead, trying to raise children on a diet of cabbage and potatoes (“We always gave them a little sausage,” she adds). She is also overwhelmed by the fears common to an unruly and impoverished police state. What to do with the winning ticket? People will find out where they live and steal it. They’ll get jumped coming out of the bank. She spends much of the play obsessing about where to hide the ticket.
A savvy examination of the divisions between rich and poor, it’s easy to see how György Spiró’s short play struck a chord with Gigante’s Anderson and Kralj when they saw it two years ago in Slovenia. In the American moment when everyone is talking about growing income inequality and divisions between the “1 %” and the rest of us, Spiró explores the psychic rift between the haves and have-nots. In a slightly absurd, very Eastern-European style, Spiró’s dialogue has more ups and downs than a game of Chutes and Ladders. In one moment, the couple talks about buying an island in the Mediterranean, in the next, she’s telling him that she doesn’t want to stop cleaning houses because “it’s a good job that pays well.”
The conversation—which takes place in real time around a kitchen table—takes many surprising turns along the way. Eventually, the voice of the playwright asserts itself with a radical proposal of sorts that will deepen the simple scenario. And the couple’s final act will keep you thinking about the hour you’ve spent with them long after you’ve left the theater.