Tracy Letts is currently getting a lot of attention for the movie adaptation of his masterful play, August: Osage County. People who love the acclaimed family drama, can now see one of his earlier works courtesy of the Ion Theatre Company, Bug. Be forewarned, the bleak tone and consistent adult content makes this piece most likely to appeal to a small and specific audience.
Set in an unflattering motel room in Oklahoma, 1995, Agnes White (Hannah Logan) lives a lonely life after breaking up with her criminal husband, Jerry Goss (Tim Schubert). Through her lesbian friend, R.C. (Amanda Morrow), she meets Peter Evans (Steve Froehlich), a strange man who claims to have been discharged from the military . Despite his awkward attitude, Agnes feels that he really cares about her. The two start to become intimate, but their relationship takes a dark turn when Peter starts sharing his bizarre beliefs that the government may have put dangerous bugs into the motel room.
Ion co-founder Claudio Raygoza’s direction can best be described as tense. At times, his meticulous attention to detail is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” – and that’s meant as a compliment.
Bug is a sensory experience that uses visuals and sound to create a creepy world. Scenic designers Ron Logan and Raygoza gradually make the motel room become more nightmarish as the stakes rise.
Melanie Chen’s sound design features many audio snippets of helicopters flying, to increase the sense of paranoia and danger. Her use of disturbing music contributes to the uneasy mood.
Mary Summerday’s costumes are appropriately gritty. Logan is dressed to look like a trashy woman who likes to fool around with guys. Froehlich spends a lot of time in a plain white T-Shirt, which along with his short haircut, makes him look like a damaged former member of the military.
Logan is uncomfortably convincing as the deeply wounded Agnes. While sexy at times, her sleazy attitude is more unpleasant than sensual. She authentically shows how her sharp-tongued attitude masks her painful existence.
Froehlich nails the many strange rants that Peter goes on. His delivery is so fervent, that it becomes easier to buy the fact that Agnes trusts him.
Schubert portrays Jerry as an arrogant scumbag who treats everyone around him with disrespect. His mean spirited attitude evokes both laughs and groans.
Morrow provides necessary logic and some comic relief as Agnes’s close pal, R.C. She has a couple of parallels with Charlie Aiken from Letts’s August: Osage County as the only character who comes across as genuinely likeable.
Bug is worth checking out for those that want to delve into the dark-side of life, but Letts’s script is not perfect. The opening scene is slow with little dialogue and not enough unique visual touches to be very engaging.
The first thirty minutes or so veers toward exploitation, with consistently shocking material, including profanity, drug use, physical abuse as well as male and female nudity galore. The opening section is not weak due to the inappropriate content. It is because it feels like when he was writing Bug, Letts tried to do everything he possibly could to catch his audience off guard.
After the plot gets going, viewers can finally start to fully appreciate the creative suspense that is on display. There is still much adult-only material, but it becomes more organic to the tale, and doesn’t feel quite so forced, as in the first part of the show.
Bug might not be in the same league as August: Osage County, but it is still a mostly brilliantly trippy depiction of two people going off the deep end.