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Family squabbles and flying saucers The Sugar Bean Sisters'

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Family squabbles and flying saucers  The Sugar Bean Sisters' photo courtesy the PTC Facebook Page

PTC production offers weird, wild trip to the Florida swamps

BANGOR We are not alone in the universe at least, not according to some eccentrics living in the swamps of Florida.

That's part of the story behind 'The Sugar Bean Sisters,' a play by Nathan Sanders. Penobscot Theatre Company is presenting their production of the show a Maine premiere through Feb. 17 at the Bangor Opera House.

It's the tale of the Nettles sisters, two spinsters living out their days in their deceased father's shack in the town of Sugar Bean, Florida. There's Willie May (Irene Dennis), a born-again Mormon who supports their little family by way of her 'grapefruit fortune,' a settlement for an injury she received while working at a citrus plant. And then there's Faye Clementine (A.J. Mooney), a woman whose main claim to fame is an appearance on the cover of 'The Weekly World News' after a UFO sighting 20 years ago.

Faye is anxiously awaiting the return of her visitors on the 20th anniversary of their first appearance, while Willie May wants nothing more than to find a good Mormon husband she's got her sights set on the good Bishop Crumley (Steve Gormley), but she's ready to move to Salt Lake City if she has to.

However, an unexpected visitor soon stirs the pot. Videllia Sparks (Jasmine Ireland) is a singer from New Orleans whose broken-down car has left her stranded near the home of the Nettles sisters. They offer Videllia shelter from the storm, but it soon becomes clear that not all is as it seems. Before long, various and sundry plots and machinations are unfolding including one that involves the mysterious and mystical Reptile Woman (Phillippa Harvey).

PTC has billed 'The Sugar Bean Sisters' as a 'Southern gothic comedy.' It's as good a description as any for a play that in many ways defies description. It's a wonderfully weird story, packed to the gills with oddities and eccentricities that make for an undeniably engaging theatrical experience.

Dennis offers a sense of prim propriety that often veers off into the realm of the absurd in her portrayal of Willie May. It's a nice contrast to the aw-shucks attitude with which Mooney infuses Faye. The two of them are at their best when in the midst of their regular sisterly bickering the dynamic between them feels genuinely sisterly. Ireland is bold and brash as Videllia, bringing a brassiness to the role that makes for a striking contrast with the down-hominess of the Nettles sisters. Gormley's Bishop Crumley is well-meaning and stolid, while Harvey's Reptile Woman is creepy and more than a little unsettling.

The technical elements of this show are absolutely marvelous. Scenic designer Sean McLelland has created a remarkable set, one rich with meticulous detail and evoking simplicity and complexity at the same time. The home of the Sugar Bean Sisters is both huge and intimate no mean feat. Of course, credit for that accomplishment should be shared with lighting designer Tonry Lathroum. The designer's ability to bounce between bright and dark, inside and outside, contributes greatly to the vibrancy of the world that has been created. It's the sort of lighting that manages to bely its own elaborateness exceptional work. Costume designer Rebecca Wright has created a wonderful hillbilly-chic aesthetic, with overalls and linen and brightly colored feathers abundant. Meanwhile, Brandie Rita's sound design is practically a character in itself, adding the final layer to this weird and wonderful world.

Director Bari Newport has already shown in her relatively brief tenure at PTC that she is unafraid to take risks. 'The Sugar Bean Sisters' is definitely one of those risks bringing something new to the table is always a crapshoot. However, Newport's obvious affection for the material carries the day; her love for these people, for this world, shines through. Without risk, there can be little reward.

'The Sugar Bean Sisters' is not your typical theatrical offering. It is absurd and bizarre, filled with familial love (and occasional loathing). It's not the sort of thing you see every day; weird and wild and never boring. If you're so inclined, take a trip to the town of Sugar Bean.

After all the truth is out there.

(Penobscot Theatre Company will be presenting 'The Sugar Bean Sisters' through February 17. For tickets or more information, call the PTC box office at 942-3333 or visit their website at penobscottheatre.org.)

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