In Theresa Rebeck’s new play “Dig,” Megan has done the unspeakable.
“I had started to read about these terrible stories, of people who lose their children this way. It seemed tragic to me,” Rebeck said recently by phone.
“It became interesting to me to wonder if you could survive,” she said. “How do you bring a person back from a tragedy so severe? ‘Are people salvageable?’ became a question for me. Some people go through something that renders them dead in life. Is there help for them?”
Dorset Theatre Festival will present the world premiere of “Dig” — part tragedy, part mystery, part tale of redemption, and even part romance — directed by the playwright, July 11-27 at the Dorset Playhouse.
Dubbed the “most Broadway-produced female playwright of our time,” Rebeck was the author of Broadway’s 2018 hit “Bernhardt/Hamlet.” As Dorset’s resident playwright, she has developed more than six productions at the festival that have gone on to other stages around the country, including 2017’s “Downstairs,” starring Tim Daly and Tyne Daly, which ran Off-Broadway at Primary Stages in fall 2018, and “The Way of the World” in 2016, that went on to the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., in 2018.
In “Dig,” a dying plant shop in a dying urban neighborhood receives a visitor from the past: Megan, the neighborhood screw-up, whose suicide attempt followed a terrible tragedy. Roger, the reserved store owner, wants nothing to do with this situation or her. But Megan is improbably clinging to life.
Their story parallels the photosynthesis of the store’s plants, and it’s the mystery of these characters that proves riveting.
“You think, ‘What is going on with that person?’ and you hope something reveals itself,” Rebeck said. “That’s partly what is going on with these characters. What is going on with them?”
Some of their development has even occurred during the current rehearsal period.
“We added some stuff for Megan about why she tells the story the way she tells it. It doesn’t make it more explicable, it just makes it more explicable for her,” Rebeck said. “I understand why other people don’t think she should have done it that way, but I understand why she did.”
Roger is a bit of a hermit, but whatever happened in his past that led him to it is another mystery.
“He’s got everything where he likes it and feels in control of it,” Rebeck said. “It ultimately argues that Roger was not meant to be alone — none of us are.”
As the play unfolds, Megan’s story becomes more and more clear.
“Roger never gets down to what has happened to him, but I don’t think it’s as relevant because he’s made peace with himself,” Rebeck said. “It’s his innate decency that draws him into this situation. It complicates his life enormously — because that is what needs to happen.
“Both of them are having to face a new life,” Rebeck said. “From a certain respect, it’s a romance.”
Asked about the ending, Rebeck retorted, “I’m not the typical modern playwright. They forgot to give me lessons.”
“Dig” received an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award to help support Dorset’s world-premiere production.
“Because of the Edgerton Foundation, we can extend the rehearsal process for this play, which is always so important when producing something for the first time,” said Dina Janis, Dorset’s artistic director. “It will be a deeper, more rigorous creative process. Bringing a play to life with designers directly involved in the process from the beginning is extremely important to us and one of the reasons that we are excited to support Theresa in the direction of her own play. Her vision for the world of the play is always influenced by the contributions of designers by whom she is inspired and challenged.”