The following is a partial transcript of a talk-back after the 10/19/08 showing of Bug at the Providence Black Rep, recorded and transcribed by Black Rep Dramaturgy Intern Ryan Hanley. Present at the talk-back are director Megan Sandberg-Zakian, cast members Jackie Davis, Marie Michaelle Saintil, Cedric Lilly, Raidge, and Bob Jaffe, as well as various members of the audience.
MSZ: Thank you all for coming! I'm Megan Sandberg-Zakian, Associate Artistic Director at Black Rep, and I also had the privilege of directing these wonderful actors in BUG. I'd like to introduce the actors to you. They are: Raidge, Cedric Lilly, Jackie Davis, Michaelle Saintil. (applause) The very bloody Bob Jaffe is upstairs getting clean and will be down shortly. We like to do these talkbacks in three parts. The first part is affirmation, where you tell us what you liked about the show. In the second part, we have some questions that we'd like to ask you, things we have been struggling with over the course of our work on the play, and we're interested to hear what you think. Finally, part three, you have the opportunity to ask us some questions. If you have any questions, it would be great if you could hold them until part three, and we promise to answer them! Make sense? Good. Ok, so part one, affirmation. What did you like about the play? Anything positive about this play or the production, anything that sticks out to you. Images, ideas, moments that you liked, that you remember. Something that surprised you or make you think. Yes?
Chantalle: One thing I really liked was on the pizza box, the “united we stand”, the subliminal things. I liked that.
MSZ: I’m sorry that I forgot to mention I have a wonderful intern here, Ryan, who’s recording this for our purposes of documentation so if you could say your name when you speak or if you don’t wish to be identified by your real name make up a name. So what was your name?
MSZ: Thank you, Chantalle. Yes, any more affirmations?
Rheba: It was gross, but the wound, especially when you turned...this one scene when you turned and we could see it not just on your right elbow, but your left elbow. It was so subtle but it was like “yes, another gross wound.”
MSZ: Thank you Rheba.
(Bob Jaffe enters)
MSZ: This is Bob Jaffe.
MSZ: Any other affirmations? Yes?
Annette: Hi, my name’s Annette, and I liked how they worked in the conspiracies, you know, the Tuskegee experiment. It brought back a little bit of history to go along with the story even though he was having delusions. I mean, he was able to back it up, basically, so that was a good touch.
MSZ: Thank you, thank you very much. Yes?
Mishell: Every time I see it I’m amazed at how many audience members are scratching (laughter) and that’s really a testament to how well you guys put this show on and how well you acted and brought the realism because I just look around and people are involuntarily scratching.
MSZ: Thank you, Mishell Lilly. Other affirmations? Yes?
Kari: My name is Kari. This was probably the most intense theatre experience I’ve ever had and I’ve been to a lot of plays. This was just...I’ve never felt as uncomfortable, yet enjoyed it at the same time. Very uncomfortable...but it was strong.
Rosalind: Yes, I’d like to back that up, my name is Rosalind, I thought the performances across the board were wonderful and I loved (Jackie’s) long monologue rant at the end and I was like “wow, I can’t believe I’m seeing this”. It’s incredible. Just really beautiful. I’ve never seen a break-down with such energy. Very incredible amount of conviction. I was right there with it. That’s really a joy to see. Awesome.
Ellie: I’m Ellie. Our class is here and we read it and we were wondering how you would have been able to pull a tooth out on stage and that was just so well...
Bob: He really pulled it, but now he’s running out of teeth.
Ellie: I just thought stuff like that is not easy to do and was really well done. I liked it, I was freaking out. Good job.
MSZ: Thank you. Yes sir?
Glen: My name’s Glen and I was just thinking how timeless some of the themes were, in my own life and in some other people’s about relationships and how when you get to the point where you are so lonely, and I thought the best thing was that you finally had something that was yours and you didn’t want it to leave, whether you believed in the bugs or whatever. But I’ve seen it in myself and my friends, being in bad relationships and how you want to leave. And also, it kind of takes it to a higher level after 9/11, how we were all susceptible to fear and wanting to believe in something, believe in a solution. How you can just get sucked into this hysteria. I just kind of thought every time I see a good play there is something I can take with me and I liked the way you picked at that. Most times you aren’t in the same lifestyles as the characters in the play but there is still something...you can say “hey, that’s not just for people who are down and out”. We talk about relationships and wanting a solution to hang on or want something. I just thought it was really cool the way you brought that into everyone’s life.
MSZ: Thank you Glen, we really appreciate that. Yes?
Ellen: I’m Ellen and speaking again about the uncomfortable environment. I thought the set and sound design were fabulous. The room and how it’s so angular, it makes you uncomfortable. Something is off, something is wrong. I was paying attention because I realized at one point it’s never silent. It’s never really silent. Even at one point when it started to get quiet you were like “I’m going to turn on some music.” For creating an uncomfortable environment, there were some good choices.
MSZ: Thank you. Yes?
Scott: My name is Scott and first off I’d like to applaud all the performers. It was phenomenal. I’m used to PPAC and I’ve been wanting to come to Black Rep for quite a while. It was great. It was a great beginning. There is nothing more I can say. It was absolutely phenomenal. Everything you insinuated, the blood. Everything was great. It was phenomenal. The play is a great play, tying into conspiracy and what is going on in society today. It was great.
MSZ: Thank you. Yes?
Jenny: I’m Jenny. I just loved how you guys included the transitions...I’ve never seen anything like that, how the lights were dim and you were all still in character, I liked how it kept us immersed in the play.
MSZ: Great. Thank you. Yes Raffini?
Christine: I enjoyed everybody. Bob was so convincing I didn’t know it was you. I don’t like to pick favorites often, but I’ll give props where props are due, and I felt that this was the best show I have ever seen at the Black Rep. I’ve enjoyed other shows here, but this one was so intense. I brought my students here and every last one of them enjoyed it. They loved it. I am really impressed and I thank you for making my Sunday afternoon. And I’ve got an aspiring actor here who’s kind of on the shy side, and I told him a lot of actors are. Go ahead.
James: I’ve got a comment to say. I really liked how you acted and I want to become an actor too. I learned a lot from you and thank you for the performance. And my name is James.
Raffini: Tell them your last name...his name is James Taylor.
MSZ: I’d like to move to the question we have that a few of you have already touched on. I wanted to ask why you think we came to produce this play. There are a lot of wonderful plays out there. Why do you think Black Rep chose to do this play in Providence in 2008 and at the Providence Black Rep as well. Does anyone have thoughts on that?
Raffini: Yeah, I do. I think it might of had to do with all of the different underlying conspiracy plots, all of the different things that were named. And I’m not sure if Don made the choice or not, but I think with the people working at the Black Rep being conscious that it would be something they would say like “yeah I remember this” and “wow, I didn’t remember that was happening, now lets do this.” The little snippets that he was talking about, that he was naming about conspiracies, a lot of them I knew and I was making comments. An older gentleman sitting next to me was doing the same thing. I just think that if there was a reason that it might be one of the big reasons.
MSZ: Thank you. Yes?
Jillian: Well I think that audience is experiencing the validity of paranoia and the fact that we’re here is because...for a certain community there is a greater distrust for the government. The more you know, the less you trust the government. I just think how a lot of people can relate to the idea of being watched constantly...
MSZ: Thank you. What’s your name?
Jillian: I’m Jillian.
MSZ: Jillian, thank you. Yes?
Annette: Well, working in the healthcare field and also working in psychology, I see a different aspect of it. A lot of people aren’t getting the treatment that they need. (Cedric’s) character was one who did not get the treatment he needed...(Jackie) validated what was going on with him and she showed that when (Michaelle) came in and said “I don’t see any bugs”. The more she tried to get her back to reality, there was a tighter hold. She didn’t want to let go. Honestly, a lot of people are like that...the budget is slim to get that help. Not only that, a lot of insurance companies don’t want to cover that. They’ll cut off your benefits. And no one is going to treat you because you don’t have the money.
MSZ: And to add to that is the complication of being a war veteran.
Bernadette: My name is Bernadette and just wanted to comment on how I like how we take these dark conspiracies and themes, but they also keep it light. These things are going on and you have to be aware of these things, but you can’t go overboard.
MSZ: Thank you. Yes?
Audience Member 1: The woman over there referring to mental illness and how there is not a lot of help for people, but another side of that is when someone is deep in that illness they don’t see the truth or what others would say is the truth. What society says is the truth is different for them. So when somebody needs to get help and they don’t see that they need help, how do you help them? How do you fix what is supposedly wrong or what is allegedly wrong if their reality is completely different from what everyone says what reality is? That’s definitely an issue that a lot of people don’t see or are aware of. If there is a need for help...these two characters died because they didn’t seek the help they needed. They didn’t see what was wrong. So that’s something very real.
MSZ: Did you see another possible way for the play to end? Another option?
Audience Member 1: Yeah. There could have been a lot of different endings. Maybe (Raidge) could have gotten into the room or maybe the friend...there are lot of different things where people could say “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” but it’s just very real to me. Everybody knows people that have certain things going on in their life and it’s such a struggle to watch someone you love and care about go through things that you can’t help them with.
Nora: My name is Nora. I would like to make an analogy to not being able to see the bugs. You are anti-American or you are pro-American. You can’t say something negative because it wouldn’t be patriotic. And the fact is so many things has come out on how America has been involved...the CIA has been involved with Central America, South America, and in the world in general. But I don’t want to say anything because then you’re anti-American. It’s almost like McCarthyism never really died. There’s always a little bit of fear where, if you let this out, that somehow you are against America rather than you expect more from it, and you want those changes.
Bob: We were talking about mental illness and not being able to get the help you need. From my character’s perspective, I’m not sure that Peter was mentally ill or that his mind was altered as a result of what he underwent or in the four years that we spent together. I’m curious to know what people thought, whether it was mental illness or if it were something else.
Rosalind: I thought that was a strength of the play that there was ambiguity to say the least. You’re not really sure if the bugs are there. I wasn’t convinced there were no bugs at all, but I wasn’t sure. Especially when your character is introduced I was like “what is going on?” Is he a manifestation of paranoia? I really liked that. I don’t think anyone wants to walk away with a clean answer. You want there to be questions. You want to keep thinking about it. I think that with strong art you want to spend some time with it after the fact, play it over in your mind. That’s a great pleasure.
Robert: I loved how incredibly spooky Dr. Sweet was. He seems half-paranoid delusion and half reality. It was telling when he said “there’s no denying that” when he saw the bug.
Bob: But did he just tell her he saw the bug because she saw the bug?
Ellen: You did sort of get that sense. I also thought your movement choices were so interesting because towards the end your movements almost seemed robotic and you wanted to believe you were a machine. That was very interesting.
MSZ: Did you believe he was a machine?
Ellen: Almost. In a good way. You’re never sure.
Audience Member 2: I just wanted to make a comment. When I was looking at the play I couldn’t help but question myself in terms of how the government has an impact on proceedings in the military. I had a terrible vision about war and they were giving them things that they were unaware of. Things that were supposed to protect you, to help you. To protect them against things they might come across at that time, in that area. It makes me question what are some of the things the government is doing, and how are they doing it, and how do they come to these decisions about giving certain people certain things, and where and when. And are these things valid? Are they protective? So on and so forth...
Ellie: The moment Dr. Sweet said “you need to get back on your meds”, that really resonated with me because I’m thinking how paranoia and mental illness is really a deviation from the norm people expect. There may not be anything wrong. They are looking at the world differently but they can’t handle that and are getting paranoid off of meds. Or when somebody knows that they are right. They are really alright but are being drugged out...or there is something wrong and they do need help, but how can you tell?
Annette: From the start, when Peter first came out, we had him diagnosed. Paranoid delusions...
MSZ: Can I ask how you differentiate that with being a crack addict or PTSD or government experimentation...it’s an honest question. I don’t have a medical background and that was something we struggled with in the course of rehearsing the play. How are all these things playing out and how do you perform them as an actor? How do you show these things? Do you pick one and let the others be figured out? It’s one of the more complicated things when producing this play.
Annette: When you work around them you notice little things that they do as far as...they have their highs and their lows. You will see the paranoia or you can see the slight little things. You have to be around them constantly to pick up on that...with no medical background it would look like a crack addict.
Audience Member 3: Thinking back on those brilliant complexities of the play, you had something at the end there, that was really a manic attack. When you have friends of family that have gone through that, there’s no confusion until the very end. That was your spiral down to me. But what’s so complex are all the different instances that are factual. It is really disturbing. I was really disturbed I have seen folks personally going through that mania and then I know on the other hand there have been crazy, detrimentally wrong things that have happened. It’s really complex and it made me think about what you do when you are dealing with folks with who it is not clear. When it starts breaking down, when do you say “that’s it, they definitely crossed that line and it’s time for meds” or call the mom or whomever.
MSZ: Or how do any of us make those choices about the world around us, and where do we draw the line? When do we say what is true and what is a lie? We all make those decisions all the time but we aren’t necessarily thinking about why or how we’re making them. This play was in fact written over ten years ago after the first Gulf War when it had come out that there was a government cover-up of the effect of chemical weapons on American soldiers.
Kari: I think one thing that was very interesting was when he was talking about vacancy, how there is either vacancy or no vacancy, not the possibility of vacancy. I think it was kind of interesting where these are characters in a morally grey part of the world that just see things as black and white. They are or they aren’t. There is no uncertainty.
Mishell: I just wanted to say two things. One, Bob’s line pertaining to “I don’t like labels”, that is so important in this discussion we are having in terms of...we take a book called the DFM4 and we have all of this criteria and someone could come in exhibiting these behaviors and we label them schizophrenic, and in all of those manifestations their mental health comes out in different ways. So I don’t like labels either and I think it’s real important that we don’t just take a look at someone and label them and put them in a box and start treating them a certain way. The four of us could walk in with the same complaint of a stomach problem. I might have an ulcer, she may be pregnant. But when you walk in and we have a set criteria to deal with people with stomach aches, somebody is going to get mistreated. I love the way play ended. I don’t think it could have ended any other way under the circumstances. The only thing that would have happened would be that Dr. Sweet would have Peter back, locked him up somewhere...
Raidge: I could have just broken in and knocked Peter out...
Mishell: I love the poetic justice with Peter killing Dr. Sweet. I don’t think it could have been any better, and then killing himself. I loved it.
Audience Member 4: I had a very different reaction. I felt the ending of it simplified the complexity that was building. I would have much preferred a different ending, I don’t know what it was...
MSZ: Can you elaborate on what you think it was building?
Audience Member 4: Agnes’ soliloquy was madness, because I got caught up in the spiral going down. And then the revelation was...it was kind of a simple conclusion to that. That doesn’t happen that often in reality, but that spiral continues. And its keeping that madness alive that we respond to.
Raidge: Before I got into theatre I was into hip-hop and I had a friend that I kind of grew up with. We used to battle, freestyle every single morning. We also accumulated similar information dealing with religion or spirituality. Over the years I watched this guy kind of spiral to a point where he is now medicated and when he doesn’t take his medication he is dangerous. I actually watched this spiral happen. I watched him descend to a place where I could not reach him. I was actually one of the last people that could reach him. And the whole time I’m thinking to myself that I really didn’t believe in mental illness, things like attention deficit disorder and all of these things, and I always thought of these crazy conditions and then they give you something to counter this condition and what they give you is actually hurting you more. And kind of felt like what they gave damaged him more and I was unable to reach him because of that. But what he was spiraling over was a conflict that he was having internally. The information that he was reading wasn’t matching up with his environment and he didn’t know what to do about it. And he desperately wanted to do something about it. And he kind of felt like he wasn’t living up to a full potential of a human being. He felt like he was being less of a person because he couldn’t institute the thing he understood to be the truth so clearly in his mind to the point where he estranged himself from everyone. He felt that nobody was with him and he had these ideas. “If you ain’t with me you’re against me”. And this is how we do these things to ourselves. It’s (Jackie’s) spiral. She says a line that doesn’t make any sense at all and she goes right over it, and I don’t know if anybody else catches it. But it’s the one line that links her history to what’s going on. And it makes no sense and she accepted it. She said “they took Lloyd. They took them and gave them to him.” Then she says “they paid Goss and he took him and gave him to them.” The first line made no sense whatsoever.
Jackie: They, those people, gave him to them. They. The big “they”. The ones that are already there.
Raidge: So, in other words, I believe that there’s always something that we refuse to let go of that ultimately ends us.
MSZ: Well this is a common theme in a lot of the plays that we have done at Black Rep, that how you can be driven crazy by not being able to achieve something, not being able to live the life you want to live, not being able to affect change in the world, not being able to feed your family, not being able to save yourself, all of the things that the world does to people at the margins and the play is really about that. I’ll take one more comment and then I will open it up to questions from the audience. Yes, what’s your name?
Dimitri: Dimitri. This is actually a question. When you guys were reading the play, did you actually think that Dr. Sweet was a real doctor?
MSZ: Can you define “real doctor”? Does he have a medical degree?
Jackie: I believe that he’s a real doctor. A military doctor.
Cedric: He’s a robot!
Jackie: When I read Dr. Sweet’s character, I found that he was very practical. He would come in we would try A and after A doesn’t work we would try B, and after B we would try C. And then he knows what to do with Lloyd.
Dimitri: How did he know about Lloyd?
Jackie: Exactly. That’s when I start to buy in. I don’t know.
Dimitri: I think he knew through RC.
MSZ: You know, we’ve heard back about this in the talk-backs and somebody yesterday said they thought that Bob was RC’s dealer. And we’ve also heard he’s a hallucination. We’ve heard he’s a military doctor, we’ve heard he’s a scientist. I think if you talked to all of these people you would get a different answer.
Clayon: Was he hallucinating or was he not hallucinating? At the end, I personally thought he was.
Bob: About the bugs?
Clayon: Well, yeah. About the whole thing at the end when they both sort of...when both characters sort of deteriorated and decided to blow themselves up.
Jackie: I saw the bugs. He saw the bugs.
Clayon: Was it a delusion or was it not a delusion?
Cedric: I think that’s up to the audience. I’m really, honestly answering your question. I can’t answer that for you. You need to draw your own conclusion.
Jackie: For me, I’m so far gone in the moment and everything that is going on. I believe that the culmination of all of this is now coming out.
MSZ: I think that this play might be unique, it sort of was for me in the rehearsal process, in the sense that we didn’t all sit down and decide the truth at the beginning of the rehearsal process. So I don’t know. I think people may start to process it in a different way as they move out of the show and stop having to do it and being out of character.
Jackie: But I read the play. I didn’t think there were any bugs. I thought she was lonely and easily manipulated, as Jackie. So I had to keep reading it and try to understand “what is going on with this woman?” As we go into it and it starts to build me as an actor, what these people are feeling, then I got to where “she’s got to be what she needs to be to keep Peter.” Then she gets so caught up in at that there are bugs. There is something affecting their bodies. I decided to accept that there were bugs.
Cedric: The first time I read the play, before I even auditioned, I completely believed that there were bugs. I totally believed it. And I was reading and I was like “oh snap! Oooh!” (Laughter).
Clayon: Dr. Sweet? Was he part of their imagination or was he part of what he...
Jackie: I am so glad you brought that up. I was like “oh wow, that is so possible” that it never entered my mind during the rehearsal process.
Bob: Strictly within the context of the play, there is no information that the doctor has that he couldn’t have found by asking a few questions around town.
Cedric: And RC said he was hanging around the bar.
Bob: And RC said he was hanging around the bar. He could have found out about Lloyd. Could have met Jerry through RC. Could have found out where the hotel was. Could have made a deal with Jerry. All within the context of the play.
MSZ: Yes Kathy?
Kathy: I’ve seen the play a few times and there is one thing I can’t figure out on my own. How do you know that Agnes lied to you in the beginning about not having children? And I don’t want to hear “you pick up on things”.
Cedric: That’s the easy answer. I think my senses have expanded by crack, by perhaps Dr. Sweet, that in his brain...Peter is very intelligent. He can feel it.
MSZ: But don’t you ever know when someone is lying to you?
MSZ: I hear people lie to me all the time...
Jared: I’m Jared. How did you guys deal with the helicopter noises?
Cedric: I can see how the helicopter noises might be Peter’s imagination...but as Peter...there is still something coming to get me. They followed me here to Oklahoma City and they are after me.
MSZ: And to me, metaphorically, the helicopters represent that stuff that you will hear and see if you are willing to allow yourself. If you are tuned into it, yeah, you are going to hear that. If your blinders are on, you’re not going to hear it. And maybe there are helicopters circling overhead now and some of us hear them and some of us don’t. I’m perfectly serious when I say that. There are real helicopters and there are things that are metaphorical helicopters, that are constantly watching us and hovering around us.
Raidge: You could be driving the street and not notice the twenty-seven cops on your block. But the minute your tags expire, all you see is cops.
Kari: When you were first starting out rehearsing, were you uncomfortable playing the character being in the scene?
Jackie: It’s just a matter of finding a way. For me, as an actor, I have to find the bit of realism that says “ok, this is possible”. If you can’t find that humanity or that empathy or that “thing”, then you can’t give a real performance and people will see you are faking it. And I don’t want to fake it. It’s just...over time studying it, having some empathy for the character, and then just go with it.
Cedric: I don’t know my answer to that question. I don’t think I felt uncomfortable, I’m going to be honest, I think I was apprehensive. Because I didn’t know what it was or how it could be believable to an audience. I didn’t understand.
Robert: Did you all think there was a point of no return in the play in which Agnes could not be saved and where would that be?
Michaelle: When she kicked me out.
Bob: ...We tried to give her a way out. We tried many ways to give her a way out...
Jackie: Even with herself. RC kind of had her with the whole thing of taking her to the doctor. I think that was the fine line in that scene that could have gone either way.
Raidge: With my character the point of no return was the flames. I tried until the very end to come home. All he wanted was her.
Audience Member 5: Who ordered the pizza?
MSZ: I don’t think we’ve ever talked about who ordered the pizza. It was just...Pizza Harris...I think we talked about that it might have been for the room next door.
Ryan: I thought it might have been Raidge’s character trying to get back in.
Jackie: A new tactic.
Audience Member 6: I actually thought the pizza had bugs in it. I thought the government sent it. Didn’t Dr. Sweet die after the pizza came?
Various: It was before.
Audience Member 6: I thought it had something to do with maybe they needed something they didn’t have and sent the pizza.
John John: Did anyone mention the fact that prisoners and soldiers do lose their rights so the government can really do anything that they wanted to them?
Cedric: I don’t think anybody mentioned that but...
Raidge: Whenever you join the military you become property.
MSZ: We did some research on what it’s like for veterans coming back and some of the stuff we learned included how some were not given psychological screening before they went into combat. And they were being told when they came back they had mental illness or personality disorders, that their mental injuries to their spirit and soul were not combat-related, and were not treatable under their army program.
Bob: Also, if you look, there are some suggested things to look up in your Black Notes program, and it’s suggested you look them up. Look at the MK Ultra project, that started in the late thirties, in which the CIA was involved. And there were experiments, there are some testimonies on YouTube as well. There were experiments on American citizens.
(At this point, the camera ran out of memory and could not record anything else. Thanks to all for the great conversation!)