Tracy Letts' Bug Explores Depth of Human Weakness

Tracy Letts' play, Bug, tells the story of a lonely, middle-aged waitress (Rhonda Lee Brown), victimized by her abusive ex-husband, and tortured by the kidnapping of her child in a supermarket almost ten years ago; a mysterious, timid stranger (Chris Reid) with a military past and psychotic tendencies; and the romance and paranoia that develops between them in a cramped, trashy motel room in Oklahoma City.  Directed by Chip Walton, Brown and Reid present an unforgettable exploration of the madness and fear that plague conspiracy theorists.

The Set of BUG

Bright orange signs at the box office and the entrance to the theater warn theatergoers of 'violence, nudity, and cigarette smoke.'  As a result, during the second scene, anticipation hangs in the air as Agnes strips her shirt off in preparation for bed, baring her back to the audience.  Topless, she turns to watch Peter arranging a pillow and blanket on the floor; she and the audience pause for a moment, stretching the moment out as she waits for something more.  When Peter continues to fiddle with his makeshift bed, she climbs into her bed and covers herself with the blankets.  The stage lights dim, and the tension dissipates like an exhaled breath.  When the lights dim again at the end of the following scene, merely hinting at the sexual encounter between Agnes and Peter, it seems that Agnes' brief display is the extent of the nudity in the play.  Therefore, the 'morning after' scene comes as a shock: the bed is illuminated to show Peter bolting out from under the covers, fully naked, to look for the bug that bit him.  Agnes, emerging to help him in his search, also bares all.  Her silent moment of longing has become fully-fledged, in-your-face nudity.

Violence Erupts

The dysfunction, violence, and insanity that the play depends upon follow a similar progression as the nudity: it starts gently, drawing you in, until it hits you full in the face.  The first scene opens with Agnes leaning against the open doorway of her motel room, languidly smoking a cigarette and drinking liquor out of a glass tumbler.  The phone begins to ring repeatedly; as Agnes answers prank call after prank call, her annoyance turns to fear.  Her voice is louder and unsteadier each time she answers, and she compulsively shuts and locks the door, standing with her back against it as if to barricade it with her body.  The lights dim as the phone continues to ring, leaving an impression of despondency, fear, and vulnerability.

Insanity Ensues

The next scene reveals a little more of the desperation in Agnes' life, as it opens with Agnes and her friend, RC, drinking and snorting cocaine, and ends with Peter, a complete stranger, invited to spend the night on the floor of her room.  From here the dysfunction and violence continue their downward spiral: Agnes' abusive ex-husband, Jerry apparently the prank caller shows up and beats her before leaving again; Peter tells Agnes of his military past and his conspiracy theory, a story which hints of paranoia and insanity; all while the motel room and its occupants increasingly become infested with bugs only the two of them can see.  In the second half of the play, Agnes' ex returns to a hotel room now hung with flypaper and littered with insect repellants.  The extremes that the dysfunction in Agnes' life has reached is apparent when Jerry's bullying fails to make the impact that it did in the beginning of the play: Peter ignores him, and Agnes throws him out.  However, where Jerry fails to manipulate Agnes, Peter succeeds, as his violent seizures and circular logic recall her focus whenever she is tempted to stray from his path of paranoia.  Just as the nudity seduced, then shocked, the degeneration of the characters creates a compelling web that ensnares the audience as dysfunction turns, suddenly and explosively, to insanity.

Experience Tracy Letts' well-written descent into madness at the Curious Theatre in Denver, October 29th through December 17th, 2005.  Tickets range from $13 to $26, with evening performances offered Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, and Saturday matinees at 2pm.  For tickets call (303) 623-0524, or visit Curious Theatre online.


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