K.K. Moggie and Crystal A. Dickinson
in Bottom of the World
(© Ari Mintz)
K.K. Moggie and Crystal A. Dickinson
in Bottom of the World
(© Ari Mintz)
It is, perhaps, a cliché to say that death is much harder on the living than it is on the dead. But that doesn't make Lucy Thurber's absorbing world premiere drama Bottom of the World, now at Atlantic Stage 2, any less emotionally resonant.

As the play begins, Abigail (Crystal A. Dickinson) is in mourning for her half-sister, Kate (Jessica Love), who suffered a violent death several months ago. Kate, who was a writer, left behind a novel, and Abigail becomes obsessed with it, holding imaginary conversations with her dead sister as various scenes from the book play out on stage.

Kate's stories involve best friends Josh (Brendan Griffin) and Ely (Brandon J. Dirden), and their romances -- one successful, one not -- with Dana (Aubrey Dollar) and Sally (KK Moggie). Back in the real world, Abigail's best friend Susan (Dollar) is dealing with the impending divorce of her 60-year-old parents, Marshall (Peter Maloney) and Louise (Kristin Griffith). Meanwhile, Abigail begins dating Gina (Moggie), a woman she meets in a nightclub.

The various romances in the show play off one another, as Bottom of the World explores themes of love -- based on friendship, family, and romance -- as well as loss. Desire sometimes overlaps with these feelings, but not always, and the strength of the characters' passions does not necessarily guarantee a happy end result.

Dickinson does not seem as connected to her character's emotional life as she needs to be, but still manages to convey the huge hole that Kate's death has left. As for Love, she does what she can with the material, but the role of Kate functions more as a sounding board for Abigail's thoughts and is not developed as a flesh and blood human being. Interestingly, director Caitriona McLaughlin's production casts the sisters -- who have different fathers -- across racial lines, as Dickinson is African-American, while Love is Caucasian. But other than the visual fact of their difference, race doesn't figure prominently into the story.

The production benefits from several strong performances in supporting roles. Dollar is quite hilarious as Susan attempts to bridge the gap between her feuding mother and father, and is equally fine as Dana, who grows and matures over the course of just a few scenes. Griffin is also quite excellent as Josh, exuding a goofy charm that is quite endearing. Dirden has a solid presence as Ely, while Moggie infuses a dissatisfied hunger in both her roles, knowing that the object of her affection can't love her back the way she wants and needs. Maloney and Griffith excel as two very different sets of parents, and bring out both the humor and poignancy of the script.

Walt Spangler's set features an explosion of wooden boards that are supposed to represent a tree, but the overall design mostly just looks messy and unfinished. This could be intentional, though, as Abigail seems to feel that there was so much left unsaid before her sister's passing, and the entire play is about her journey towards closure.