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About two decades ago, a quirky little play called "The Mosquito" winged into New London in a production by the former Tavern Players, landed a rave review and never was heard from again.
That is, until this week, when it came flying into the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center performance barn for a three-day run with the James Stidfole-led Hygienic Theaterwerks, which aims at presenting works by regional playwrights featuring professional actors. Local playwright and screenwriter Nick Checker had remembered the play from years ago and encouraged Stidfole to check out the script; as soon as Stidfole read it, he immediately decided to bring it back to life.
The Theaterwerks production, directed by playwright David Smith and produced by both Stidfole and Leon Calanquin, got a full staging this time, with an updated script and a slightly more sympathetic treatment of Denny, one of the two main characters, performed by Ted D'Agostino. The play revolves around the perpetual bachelor Denny, a decent but distant man who doesn't want any complications in his love life, and Adele, played by Kelsey Shipley, an emotionally fragile woman who is the personification of complication.
As the play begins, Adele has joined Denny in his bachelor pad after a night of drinking. Denny is swatting mosquitoes, but Adele identifies with them, thinking of herself as a parasite because she was never wanted by her parents. Mosquito females crave blood for their babies and risk death to get it, she points out, calling it their karma.
"Why don't people love that much?" she asks.
Denny, living on a beach and admitting, "I know my way around the shallows," can barely contemplate the question, not understanding how anyone could give a thought to a bug, other than to swat it away.
As the play unfolds, Denny and Adele's one-night stand takes on deeper strands of meaning as Adele relates a disturbing episode of molestation and starts talking about the "mosquito" inside of her. She contemplates the notions of choice and God's will, and, as she leaves Denny's life, chillingly says, "We kill our love because we choose to."
As Denny continues to "live life like a beer commercial," years pass and little changes - until Adele shows up at his door again, now a confident, successful businesswoman spouting bromides and declaring that mosquitoes are "manageable."
"We do what we have to do to get on with it - business, don't you know," she tells Denny.
Raising questions about the sanctity of life and the ease with which we dismiss people and miss out on chances for love, "The Mosquito" still carries a bite two decades after its first local performance at the former Vangarde Gallery.
The two main actors in this psychological drama each turn in exceptional performances, Shipley heartbreaking in her transformation from an emotionally distraught woman to a steely shell of a human being and D'Agostino adept at channeling raw, uncomprehending emotion in a character that in other hands might become a cardboard figure. Tiffany Lee, who plays Denny's sometime-girlfriend Cheryl, delivers her lines with conviction in a small part.
It is hard to know what the future has in store for "The Mosquito," but if the buzz after Thursday night's concluding performance is any indication, this play deserves a wider audience - and the production by Theaterwerks just might help get it off the ground.