By Tracey Letts
Directed by Joey Arena
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
In a run-down Oklahoma motel, a woman becomes dangerously engrossed in the paranoid obsessions about insects and government conspiracies of a troubled Gulf War veteran.
Sometimes you encounter a play that is so disturbing that any recommendation carries a necessary caveat: not for the feint of heart. However powerful or revelatory, it may not be for everybody. Bug is an earlier work from Tracy Letts, who later won the Pulitzer Prize for August: Osage County, that moves into its dark territory with headlong fearlessness. The audience is forced to empathize with characters so damaged that they embrace a self-destructive journey that is at times quite difficult to witness.
The script allows the paranoia just enough seductiveness to draw the audience in, but the key is the performances of the two main characters, Agnes and Peter. Neil Brewer starts Peter off at a low key colored by shyness and introspection, slowing building to the frighteningly obsessive level required in the final scenes. Victoria Reibel peels away Agnes’ tough, defensive layers with care and thoughtfulness that enable the audience to make sense of her shift into Peter’s frame of mind. Together, these two young actors deliver a live-wire collaboration that is essential to fully realizing the power of the script.
Katie Graviss as Agnes’ friend R.C., Chris Petty as her newly paroled ex-husband, Jerry, and Sean Childress as Dr. Sweet, who arrives late in the second act to seemingly inject calm and reason into the growing chaos, all do solid, flavorful work, but they are plot devices as much as fully developed characters, and the greatest burden necessarily falls to Brewer and Reibel, who carry that weight with skill.
This is material that invites hysteria, but director Joey Arena keeps the cast disciplined and on task. Make no mistake, the final scenes reach fever-dream intensity, but it is carefully constructed and well managed. Effective set work, lighting, and sound design all hit their target, and special notice must go to Matt Goodlett for his make up effects, which are crucial in this play.
The action incorporates frequent drug use, violence and nudity in the telling of this extreme story. The word “brave” gets trotted out often as code to acknowledge an actor’s willingness to appear naked onstage, but the context is vital and there is very little that is prurient about the use of exposed flesh in Bug. This is a portrait of people stripping away every shred of identity and self-awareness until there is nothing left but psychosis, which is far more frightening than seeing people without clothes on.
July 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 2014 @ 7:30pm
Salvage Productions at
The Bards Town Theater
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205