Bug by Tracy Letts is not a show for anyone with a weak stomach. Blood, violence, nudity, and drugs are rampant in this dark comedy but, being October, this production will be exactly what many thrill seekers are hoping to witness. The show is a twisted tale of two troubled strangers, who quickly become lovers and head down a dark path of delusions, paranoia and, ultimately, insanity. Letts takes the audience into a reality where conspiracy theories are hard truths and no one can be trusted.
Kimberlee Wolfson plays Agnes, a rough and blunt bartender living in a cheap, roadside motel room, where the entire show is set. Agnes has her own troubles, an abusive ex-husband, Goss, played by Aaron Tone, and the lingering guilt and pain of losing her son years before. So she is in no mood for match-making when her lesbian friend, RC, played by Jennifer Osborn, shows up with an odd but “good-looking” patron from the bar where they work. Playing the disturbed drifter, Peter, is Matthew Marcus. At first Agnes wants nothing to do with Peter but, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the two make a connection and Peter stays the night.
Wolfson brings a tired but determined strength to Agnes, who has suffered through physical abuse and the loss of a child, while Marcus plays Peter with an agitated awkwardness that immediately creates a sense of unease the moment he steps onstage. The two are an unlikely pair and their attraction is hard to grasp at first, but as the story develops it becomes unquestionable that the two have become intertwined with co-dependent desperation.
Tone is excellent as Goss, Agnes’ abusive ex and the deep tension between the two characters is palpable. Goss is a terrifying force and Peter would appear to be in over his head, which creates a brilliant moment on stage when Goss attempts to intimidate him. Peter is sitting motionless facing the audience as Goss circles and stares at him like a predator eyeing his prey. Goss’ strength and confidence stand in stark contrast to Peter’s weak, troubled demeanor, but as the scene progresses Peter’s hatred and fury can be seen simmering under his skin, though he never moves a muscle.
It is these more subtle moments that show the care and precision taken with the direction, by Michael Wright. The show is technically strong and the understated set, along with lighting design, by Colin Dieck, add to the unsettling atmosphere that intensifies throughout the play.
But this story is not all about volatile relationships. There are the bugs; the bugs that only Agnes and Peter can see. It is the discovery of an apparent infestation that is the true conflict. Are the bugs a delusion? Or the final stage of an extensive conspiracy?
Agnes’ friend RC attempts to talk some sense into her friend, only to be turned away. Osborn does an incredible job of conveying RC’s anguish for her friend, and her failed attempt to wake Agnes up to the horrifying truth about the bugs is a gut-wrenching scene.
The show takes a gruesome turn and Agnes and Peter’s anxiety continues to compound with every passing second. The most powerful scene of the show for me is Agnes’ ultimate revelation of the bugs and how the scheme is connected to her own horrible past. Wolfson is mesmerizing as she frantically paces the room, piecing the puzzle of the conspiracy together, and it is heart-breaking to watch as Agnes finally falls completely into the delusion.
Tracy Letts’ Bug is an engrossing, heart-pumping play – a darkly comedic thriller. SeeNoSun’s production is captivating with superb acting and direction. Perfect for the fall, when people tend to seek out the darker and more terrifying experiences, this production grips the audience from the start and refuses to let go until the ride is over and the lights come back up.
Running Time: About 90 minutes, with no intermission.
‘Bug’ at SeeNoSun OnStage at Anacostia Arts Center (Review #1) by John Stoltenberg on DCMetroTheaterArts.