Barrow Street Theatre
Scott Morfee – Amy Danis – Mark Johannes
in association with
By TRACY LETTS
Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St., NYC
February 26, 2004 - January 30, 2005
Directed by DEXTER BULLARD
Sets LAUREN HELPERN
Lighting TYLER MICOLEAU
Sound BRIAN RONAN
Costumes KIM GILL
Fight Director J. DAVID BRIMMER
Production Stage Manager RICHARD A. HODGE
Press Representative PUBLICITY OUTFITTERS
Agnes White – Shannon Cochran
R.C. – Amy Landecker
Peter Evans – Michael Shannon
Jerry Goss – Michael Cullen
Dr. Sweet – Reed Birney
Tracy Letts’ BUG is dark, vicious, brutal, violent and in some scarily tangible ways, just a bit too plausible to allow any attendee to sit easy for long. Set in a motel in Oklahoma amongst crack-smoking, vodka-swilling edge-of-society characters, this creepy play is making its anticipated New York debut at Greenwich Village’s Barrow Street Theatre.
The fact that original lead Amanda Plummer, who was apparently among the most recent wave of theatrical production defectors to have experienced the catchall "artistic differences" bailed out just as the NY production of BUG was set to have the first preview performance could have been a minor catastrophe had actress Shannon Cochran, who originated the role of Agnes in the London production, not been available to step in. Her last minute inclusion makes Cochran all the more impressive, as even an experienced actor needs time to prepare for such a demanding role, and you would be hard-pressed to pinpoint any scene in which she expresses that she had not recently done so. Then, I would imagine that Agnes is the sort of role that stays with an actor, like it or not.
BUG is not a general audience type of play. It is not a family outing. It is about loss and paranoia and dreams and final decisions. There are long (and I mean onstage long, as in 30 seconds or more) sequences when the stage is empty, or when, like the first populated scene, Ms. Cochran wanders around looking for alcohol. Such void, I surmise, is intended to illustrate the relatively bleak emptiness of the characters’ lives, and under the direction of Dexter Bullard, they do succeed in making those of us in the audience feel awkward and fidgety, sitting there watching a total lack of action. When there is action, it is often full force, loud, and over the top. There is nudity that is mostly played for laughs, but that is full and extensive, and some rather graphic violence. There is full-on mental illness, drug use and mass destruction. This is theater for thought, with nothing feel-good about it.
Joining Shannon Cochran’s befuddled Agnes in this beastly BUG play are Michael Shannon in the most physically demanding and self-abusive role I have seen in a long time, a ticking bomb wrapped in pretty papers called Peter, Michael Cullen as the bad-ass ex, Jerry Goss, Amy Landecker as on-the-fringe pal, R.C., and in a classically abbreviated role, Reed Birney as the doomed Dr. Sweet. As a group, the cast is right on. The folks they play can be scary as hell, pathetic as hell, lost as hell, or whatever, but we feel every moment of it, and we can even understand where they are coming from.
The bugs of BUG, microscopic, parasitic aphids that, initially, only Peter seems to see, be they real or imagined, first emerge after Agnes and Peter sleep together. Soon, their motel room is infested, and an all-out bug battle has begun, replete with massive amounts of repellents, strips, and other pest-fighting paraphernalia that, upon sight, might even make you laugh despite the obvious downward spiral the characters are on.
If Peter has delusions, and there are, in actuality no bugs in BUG, Agnes is just needy and alone enough to latch on, go with, and ultimately experience them herself if it means that they will be together. Peter sees conspiracies in everything, and believes that the infestation problem is an assault from the government stemming back to illnesses he suffered when he was in the military overseas, and subsequent treatments he received at a hospital in the United States. In the second act of this play, where the action spirals to extreme and desperate lengths rather quickly, it becomes clear that neither Agnes nor Peter have a glimmer of reality left in their heads. They have solutions, but there are no answers, and we, the voyeurs to their odd love affair, leave full of questions.
BUG is though-provoking if not, in the end, altogether satisfying. I think that there is an audience that will find this an important play to see, but that a larger percentage of the theater-going community will either not get, be appalled, or be right out disturbed by some of the action portrayed. If you fall into the first category, then by all means, attend. Tracy Letts may not be the easiest playwright to watch, but he will damn sure take you to places (I would hope) that you have never been.
- Kessa De Santis -