Daniels was inspired to write the play after reading about the 1996 London excavation of an ancient grave, which contained what is believed to be the remains of a female gladiator who fought in the Roman amphitheater in that city. Estimated to be in her 20s, the woman was buried with symbols normally associated with the fighters. The archaeological discovery seemed to support the belief that women fought as gladiators, but it's debatable whether the remains were actually those of a gladiator.
Dust opens on an alarming note that many may find eerily familiar. Flavia, an American teenager, and her British classmates are en route to see a production of Julius Caesar when a terrorist's bomb goes off, trapping them underground in the subway system. Ostracized by her schoolmates, Flavia sets off on her own, only to find herself mysteriously transported to the Roman-ruled ancient London, where she's expected to enter the amphitheater as a fighter. Trained by female gladiators -- two of whom, Amazon and Achillia, appear on ancient stone reliefs in the British Museum -- Flavia is surprised that her newfound physical prowess gives her confidence and courage, which promise to serve her well after her time travels end. Though we hope most teens won't have to face down lions as a rite of passage, the play draws attention to the struggle to gain independence and resist peer pressure that most adolescents confront.
Directed by Domenique Lozano and featuring a cast of 25 Bay Area youth ranging in age from 13 to 19, Dust is fit for the whole family. It's a far cry from the typical theater most kids are expected to perform, but the students of the ACT Young Conservatory are ready to enter the battlefield head-on.