Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
January 24, 2014
As we all know, the feared era of Big Brother has arrived. We’re tapped, tracked and scanned at every turn. Bugged, you might say. Your life is no longer your own.
Award-winning actor and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts felt the encroaching creepiness back in 1996, when he wrote “BUG” which, in a revised version, made its American premiere in 2000. Now, with the NSA breathing down our necks, it’s more relevant than ever.
The action takes place in a seedy Oklahoma motel room, where Agnes is holed up, working at a club by night and hiding out from her abusive ex-con ex-husband, who just got sprung from the pen. Her lesbian biker buddy meets a guy at work and brings him over to meet Aggie. Peter seems a bit odd and jumpy; he’s AWOL from the Army, where he insists he was an experimental guinea pig, with surveillance transmitters implanted in his skin. Soon, these begin to manifest as bugbites . Peter becomes increasingly obsessed and paranoid. His body is bloody from the digging he’s done on his chest and arms, to get the spyware out.
Agnes, resilient (after the loss of her son) but still damaged and fragile, is happy to have someone to share her bed; she gets sucked into the weirdness, with conspiracy theories flying, along with the insidious unseen bugs. Gradually, the room turns into a bunker cum laboratory, with aluminum foil covering the walls and windows, and a microscope at the ready to examine the invisible intruders. Things get more and more unsettling. Finally, the ex brings in the doctor who dealt with Peter, and the situation starts spiraling out of control.
This is just the kind of deliciously dark drama ion theatre relishes and devours. It’s got a claustrophobic setup, blood, violence, lunacy and nudity. Who could ask for anything more?
The design elements are wonderful and, under the direction of Claudio Raygoza, the cast is superb. Hannah Logan gives a tour de force performance as Aggie, who takes the biggest journey, stopping at every emotional way-station imaginable. Steve Froelich is excellent as scary, hair-raising Peter. Amanda Morrow is gorgeously tough as the friend and Tim Schubert is aptly ominous as the ex. But the doctor is the pivotal character. How he’s played determines how we interpret what we’ve seen. Is Peter just a garden-variety paranoid schizophrenic, or did he actually undergo experimentation? Is this really a doctor, or some officious government official?
In an otherwise outstanding production, the role is played without enigma or ambiguity. Eric Poppick portrays the physician in a straightforward, fairly avuncular fashion, when sinister would’ve been more intriguing. “Bug” is far less interesting if it’s just about infectious insanity.
In either case, I defy you to come away without feeling creeped -out … and very itchy.
“BUG” continues through February 8 at ion theatre, on the edge of Hillcrest.
©2014 PAT LAUNER