Playwright: Tracy Letts. At: Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr. Phone: 773-728-7529; $25-$30. Runs through: June 26
Despite the protests of theologians and scientists, ours continues to be a fundamentally unpredictable universe, rife with uncertainty that we have learned to tolerate in most circumstances. Let the number of random occurrences suddenly increase, however, and people get nervous. Name a source for the disturbance, and the unease, having found a focus, intensifies. If the aforementioned source should prove widespread, the vulnerability engendered thereby may manifest itself in hallucinations, psychosomatic maladies and other spurious afflictionsall of which are then exhibited as irrefutable evidence of attack by unseen powers.
What makes such mass delusions less frequent today than during, say, the early medieval ages is the diminished isolation provided by improvements in communicationenlightenment rejected by the lovers whose descent into despair author Tracy Letts recounts in the second play of his career. Army veteran Peter is fleeing the authoritiesin particular, doctors whose therapies he mistrusts. Barmaid Agnes has "hermitized" herself in response to harassment by her abusive ex-husband and the long-ago disappearance of her child. When these two frightened individuals meet, their doom is sealed.
It's easy for us to jeer at frightened individualshypochondriacs, alien abductees, conspiracy theoristsbut Letts' narrative locates us within Peter and Agnes' world, drawing us gradually into the darkness that begins with small inconveniences common to shabby country motels (balky air conditioners, misdirected phone calls, annoying insects), then proceeds to escalate in successive increments descending too swiftly to permit reflection. Oh, perceptive playgoers may see a pattern to the progress, one person initiating each new step and the other following, but in the end, what remains are still two humble mortals, paralyzed by terror, whose only escape from suffering is suicide.
Co-directors Kimberly Senior and Jack Magaw have forged an empathetic production tailored to Redtwist's elbow-to-elbow space, assisted by the conviction brought by Andrew Jessop and Jacqueline Grandt to their respective roles. A precisely-timed technical score eases us slowly into a bunker-mentality where the hum of traffic on the highway outside fades into the staccato report of helicopter blades, where domestic appliances operate of their own volition and outsiders assume suddenly sinister aspects. By the time we witness the room's inhabitants, scarred by stigmata, cowering in their tinfoil-and-flystrip fortress against what has become an exhaustive campaign of diabolical proportions, the irrevocable logic of their plight is as transparent as it is horrifying.