Dirt Theatre Review - A Gritty Family Drama

“Plant in the spring. Harvest in the summer. Plow in the fall. In the winter, you rest.”

Ellie ( Andrea Robinson) has not seen one of her regulars at the town café for a few weeks. The farmer’s absence prompts her to make a surprise visit. She arrives to find the farmer, Papa ( John D. Johnston), is feverishly tending to his farm, despite his casted broken arm. Though he seems no worse for wear, Ellie makes a point of checking in on the man more regularly.


Zac ( Ryan Johnston) knows how obsessed his father can be about tending to the fields. For most of his life, his father drilled it into him relentlessly. Zac fled the small family farm and his disapproving father to become a soldier in Afghanistan. He reluctantly returns from his tour of duty in time to help his Papa work through this season’s crops. He knows that with the death of his mother that previous winter, this will most likely be the last time.

John D. Johnston (l.) & Ryan Johnston (r.) in "Dirt" @ Theatre/Theater

After witnessing his father’s strange behavior over time, Zac comes to realize that his Papa is not merely being passive/aggressive; his father has diminished to an ever-shifting state of violent, paranoid delusion. With wavering patience, Zac manages his father’s memory lapses and emotional outbursts. However, keeping his promise that Papa will see one last harvest becomes more difficult by the hour.

Andrea robinson & Ryan Johnston in "Dirt" @ Theatre/Theater


Dirt unfolds slowly, however it is not without its dynamic moments. John D. Johnston delivers a beautiful performance through the character of Papa whose soul’s poetry sporadically ebbs and flowing from his deteriorating mind. All this despite clearly being under the weather. Well Done. Ryan Johnston plays Zac’s conflict skillfully, as his smoldering resentful slowly boils over in long-held pain and anger. Andrea Robinson’s character is a welcomed reprieve, a breath of fresh air from this emotionally dense tale of rural America.


The thoughtful lighting and sound design by Derrick McDaniel and Matthew McGaughey respectively, support the fantastic and supernatural innately contained in the natural if one just takes the time to see.

John D. Johnston in "Dirt" @ Theatre/Theater


Bruce Gooch is playwright and director of this Rouge Machine Theatre / Firefly Production. While Gooch characters and language are quite rich, the play eventually drifts towards self-indulgence. Dirt tells a very small story, despite its roots in the universal themes of father-son rivalry complicated by mental illness. For those keen to be enveloped in transcendent theatrical performances, the leisurely pace of the piece is right on the mark. For those who love language, the repetition and prose will be intoxicating. However, for those waiting for stuff to hit the fan, or for the conflict to escalate to a grand scale, this show will lack a satisfying crescendo. ( I am happy to count myself amongst the former.)


Bruce Gooch’s Dirt is running now through F ebruary 27, 2011 at:



5041 W. Pico Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90019

(just west of La Brea)


(323) 960-5563 or via



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