We live in turbulent times, when people talk past each other on social media, at the Thanksgiving table, sometimes even on the street. Trust is hard to come by, and it can be difficult to separate lies from truth in a world with “alternative facts.”

It’s brave for a playwright to take on these issues when it’s hard to know what’s going on in the first place, in the real world, but that’s what Walt McGough has done in “False Flag,” staged in a world premiere by Portland’s Dramatic Repertory Company.

Tori (played with emotional depth by Marjolaine Whittlesey) works at The Boston Globe – as an office manager, not a journalist – and is already frazzled, trying to get her brother, Hank (Corey M. Gagne, virtuoso in a number of roles in this production), to pitch in as she cares for their mother, who seems to be losing her memory.

But Hank has bigger concerns – stoked by talk radio and his comrades-in-arms (literally), including his ex-girlfriend June (played with alternating, and impeccably timed, dark intensity and dark humor by Bess Welden). When he’s shot dead at a local mall, it seems like just another American gun tragedy. But coincidences start to pile up, and as she tries to square them, Tori gets swept up into Hank’s world.

She has a foil in Sophia (Sarabeth Connelly, captivating as the voice of reason and defender of truth), a reporter at the Globe. Sophia is both concerned about and frustrated by her acquaintance, as Tori descends into what may (or not?) be an alternative reality. Tori seems to gain some strength as she begins neglecting her mother, learns to shoot guns and gives an interview to a charismatic, double-talking political troll with a YouTube following (something she refused to do for her own employer), but none of that exactly soothes her nerves.

But Tori’s – nor anyone’s – emerging reality isn’t all that clear, not so much because the premise is complicated, but because, in a way, it’s not. For all its courage, “False Flag” takes care not to delve too deeply into particulars; references to race, gun rights and “fake news,” for example, are glancing. That makes the play a sort of series of MacGuffins, rather than a story, with vague plot devices to keep it turning but without real action or consequences that seem to matter much to anyone.

There’s plenty of intrigue, and the actors create vivid characters, even if their stories seem only partially drawn. In the end, “False Flag” is something of a false start – but it’s a start.

Daphne Howland is a Portland-based freelance writer.

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