That Chatham Community Players chose to inaugurate its 90th season with Tracy Letts' Bug speaks volumes about just how far this troupe has moved away from the usual community theater fare to including edgier, more contemporary plays (The Pillowman, The Graduate, Rabbit Hole, to name a few) in its repertoire. And that they perform these plays at the top of their dramatic form is evidence that CCP deserves the awards they receive every year from the New Jersey Association of Community Theaters and should be a major destination for serious theater-lovers in Northern New Jersey!
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Letts' Bug may not be an easy play to like or even watch, but I guarantee you will be riveted by the taut plot and the mesmerizing performances of every one of the five actors.
Once again, Director Bob Pridham shows how talented he is as he draws marvelous performances out of his actors. The plot is simple but tight. Agnes, haunted by her young son's disappearance from a supermarket 10 years before (when she left him for a minute to get something she forgot) and victimized by an abusive ex-husband, lives in a seedy Oklahoma motel room where she spends her days snorting cocaine and drinking. Her only diversion is visits from her lesbian friend R.C. who introduces her to Peter, a veteran of Iraq who sees conspiracies everywhere. This time, it's bugs who are dogging him, planted by scientists at the hospital where he was treated for PTSD and from which he has escaped. Over the course of several weeks, these two very wounded souls come to share a paranoid obsession with these critters, which brings them to a powerful, and unexpected, end.
As he did in Rabbit Hole, Chris Furlong has designed a terrific set, this time one that effectively replicates a squalid Oklahoma motel room, complete with working air conditioner and a bathroom visible through a doorway. And Richard Hennessy's lighting provides atmosphere and shows the passage of time. Joe DeVico's sound (especially that helicopter hovering overhead) adds suspense.
Sarah Pharaon (left) is superb as Agnes, the very embodiment of defeat and hopelessness. Her every movement speaks volumes about this sad 44-year-old woman whose life is an empty stretch of road with nothing good in sight. She's the perfect gull for Matt McCarthy's paranoid Peter Evans(right). Tensely wound-up, McCarthy jumps at the slightest provocation, becoming more and more unhinged as the play progresses. He sees bugs everywhere, feels them on (and under) his skin. He says they are blood-sucking aphids, placed there in an experiment by U.S. Army doctors (not necessarily so farfetched: remember the infecting of black soldiers with syphilis in the 1950s?), but aphids are bugs that feed on the sap of plants so that should be a tip-off that he's off his rocker. The chemistry between Pharaon and McCarthy is terrific and convincing as she slowly buys into his obsession and it overtakes the two of them.
Excellent support is provided by Jeff Maschi (left) as a very scary Jerry Goss, Agnes' former husband recently released from prison. Every time Maschi appears, there's menace in the air. As R.C., Tina Zoganas (above center) lights up the stage with her character's profane vivaciousness. Dressed by Beverly Wand in life-affirming red, she's a potent foil to Pharaon's defeated Agnes. And Brian Dowd, in a small role as the doctor looking for Peter, exudes cool evil in the guise of slickness.
Bug will not be every theater-goer's cup of tea, what with its adult situations and raw language (certainly don't bring the kids). But if you love a well-written play superbly performed, then get on over to the Chatham Playhouse before Bug closes on October 29. This production deserves a Tony Award!
Bug will be performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sunday, October 23, at 3 PM at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 N. Passaic Avenue, Chatham, through October 29. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.635.7363 or online at http://ccp.ticketleap.com/.
Photos by Howard Fischer