Bugaboo & the Silent One
Review by Neal Weaver
The Lounge Theatre
Extended through February 24
Bugaboo (Bug) is the nickname of a feisty blue-collar woman (Heidi Sulzman) who’s incarcerated in the Henderson County, West Virginia jail on a drug charge. She’s been alone in her cell for 42 days, which is hard on her because she’s a compulsive non-stop talker and has been deprived of an audience. She’s responded by talking to herself, God, and the jail guard, Peterson (Michelle Gardner), and playing solo games of tic-tac-toe. Peterson now informs her that she’s about to acquire a cell-mate with a violent and tragic past. She also tells Bug that the new woman is suicidal, and Bug should look out for signs of trouble. When the new cellmate (Jacqueline Toboni) arrives, she proves to be silent and totally incommunicative, to the point of catatonia.
This doesn’t stop Bug. She continues a one-sided conversation with the mysterious silent one. Bug has just found Jesus, and she’s determined to save the other woman’s soul. It takes a while, but when the silent woman finally speaks, what she says is disconcertingly mundane. It’s an opening, however, that leads to further conversation and shared games of tic-tac-toe. The women have much in common: both have been sentenced to 25 years to life, and both have lost their children. By carefully calibrated degrees, the two come together, and a deep and seemingly unlikely bond develops between them. It leads them to renewed love and self-awareness that only makes their situation more painful.
Playwright Marja-Lewis Ryan (One in the Chamber) has written a moving character study about ordinary women in distress and the way they struggle to cope with terrible circumstances. Sulzman and Toboni play it faithfully and eloquently, and Gardner’s tough but not unfeeling guard provides a useful foil.
Set designer Michael Fitzgerald has created a suitably grim jail cell, and Cricket Meyers’ sound design supplies a background suggesting the loud and violent life behind bars, with screams, shouts, and clanging cell doors.
The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Extended through February 24. (800) 838-3006 or batso.brownpaperickets.com. Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission.