The real dirt on "Dust" is that it's destined to provide a spine-tingling time for those who think life is just a measure of inches and seconds, as fate sucks away rhyme and reason as a daily determinant.
The power of the play is that of a workout, which gives "Dust" might — the strength of suspense that sustains Billy Goda's thriller, opening Dec. 4 at off-Broadway's Westside Theatre.
Richard Masur has been on and off the side of the angels in a long career, taking roles at once coveted (Broadway's "Democracy," TV's "Rhoda") and creepy (the sheer shudder of a part of pedophile that was TV's "Fallen Angel").
But here, in "Dust," he brushes up against one of his bigger dilemmas: bringing humanity to a hubris-filled father and captain of industry who could sink an underling's career with the chill that comes from his iceberg-encased heart.
Freeze-frame: Masur amazes with such challenges, his avuncular exterior a relative calm for what may be the tidal wave of woe that awaits his victims underneath. As the 60-year-old Martin Stone — bedrock of what constitutes his soul — "a very wealthy man used to getting what he wants," Masur misses no attempt to catch Zeke Catchman (portrayed by Hunter Foster) off-guard, with the ex-con catching hell for the minor offense of not cleaning the dust from a gym air vent, as demanded by Stone.
"Dust" sucks the oxygen out of the air, as the two spar and parry in a game of pride and prejudice that would have Jane Austen tsk-tsking over its inevitability. "He's a man that many of us recognize, one we've come across," relates Masur of the master whose verbal beatings of his underlings have them suffering from persiflage whiplash.
"He thinks he's a man above the rules," and rules accordingly.
There is only one rule for a Richard Masur role — there are no rules. "I've been very lucky to have the opportunity to play a wide range of people," says the 60-year-old chameleon character actor who last starred on a New York stage in this past season's "2,000 Years," as Jewish dad to a decidedly complex and combustible English family, whose debate over Israel threw dust in the eyes of the complacent.
Jewish pops pop up on Masur's bulging bio of accomplishments, a rich resume that includes more than 50 films and Emmy nods for his TV work, and, now, turning more in the direction of directing for all media.
Takes One to Know One?
And while Stone stops short of going to shul to atone for his atrocious behavior, there's no denying that "some Jewishness creeps in," into the religiously nondescript character. "My own roots in humanity are Jewish," says Masur, and they can't but help carve a bit of himself out of Stone.
Not that Masur's maze of characters have to be Jewish at all. "I've played Irish, I've played WASPs — and, in all these situations, I look for how to make the person believable."
Believe it — Stone, whether WASP, Jew or indeterminate, determines the play's intent intensely in the hands of Masur. Yet, with each stratum chipped off Stone's harsh exterior comes a little warmth.
Makes sense to Masur: "What I've always tried to do … all my role models — my grandparents, my parents — were Jewish, and I try to dip into that haimish kind of humor and warmth, which I try to bring to a character, if it makes sense."
Which it does — even in one as seemingly impenetrable as a Stone of steel resolve named Martin.