BWW Review: BUG at 60 Grit Theatre
Though the sample is still small, Portland's 60 Grit Theatre Company seems to show a preference for tense little plays where highly stressed characters are holed-up in increasingly claustrophobic circumstances.
Not too long ago, their fine production of Sarah Kane's "Blasted" placed a trio in a hotel room as a war raged on outside. Now, Tracy Letts' 1996 work "Bug" depicts another harrowing time for characters whose enemies, this time, are more clearly placed within. Or, are they?
Not easy to categorize, "Bug" initially has a sort of Sam Shepard-ish feel as lonesome Southwestern folks, menaced by physical and substance abuse, hope for a restart to their lives. But Letts, combining elements of psychological thriller, love story and dark comedy, soon has something that might be out of the world of Stephen King crawling onto the motel-room set.
The plot concerns 40-something Agnes, who's hiding out, hoping to avoid her ex-husband Goss and the memory of their lost child. Agnes is consoled by her lesbian friend R.C. and the booze and drugs they consume together. When R.C. introduces Agnes to Peter, a somewhat odd but kindly fellow who insists that he's "not an ax murderer," a romance quickly develops.
Despite menacing visits from the threatening Goss, Agnes and Peter find comfort in each other's arms. Then things get weird. Peter starts spinning a creepy tale about his being a subject of bizarre experiments while in the army. He soon has Agnes helping him pursue invasive insects that may be part of some sinister conspiracy that follows him. Or, they may merely represent the beginnings of an infectious delusion.
The situation becomes increasingly strange and dangerous as the two fight for "survival." A visit from a mysterious Dr. Sweet may help to explain what's really going on but comes at a point where Agnes' need for Peter has become desperate.
Khalil LeSaldo plays Peter with a sort of quiet intensity that suggests, then later reveals, his dangerous potential. He embodies Peter's obsessions, giving them a strange allure that can sometimes accompany a half-credible paranoia. "You don't speak the codes," Peter enigmatically says in romancing Agnes.
As Agnes, Shannon Campbell projects her character's need for some anchor in a life that has drifted since the loss of her son. Her interactions with R.C. suggest a sort of sisterhood but one that is too easily lost between lines of cocaine.
Megan Tripaldi's tough-talking R.C., along with Caleb Aaron Coulthard's abusive lout Goss, become unlikely voices of reason as Agnes and Peter retreat into a miasma of doubt and suspicion. Both actors hold their own in a play full of vivid characterizations.
Rounding out the cast is David L Vincent as Dr. Sweet. Vincent is eminently credible as an authority figure who could easily fit into Peter's malevolent universe or perhaps create one of his own.
Director Lindsey Higgins and crew have captured the somber signifiers of despair in the world of this play. The three-quarters-in-the-round performance space does welcome a few laughs but mainly becomes a place where human bonds are tested as people lose control of what's bugging them.
What: "Bug" by Tracy Letts
Who: 60 Grit Theatre Company
Where: Studio Theatre, 25A Forest Ave, Portland, ME
When: March 22 to April 1, 2018
Photos of Shannon Campbell and Khalil LeSaldo courtesy of 60 Grit Theatre and Quinn Trott Photography.