It would be easiest to dismiss Tracy Letts' 1996 play Bug as a sitcom on HELL-TV. Sleazy motel room. Crack-smoking, vodka-swilling cocktail waitress Agnes, her beauty fading as her life unravels. Abusive, possessive ex-con, ex-husband Goss. Lesbian best buddy R.C., who's suffering girlfriend troubles.
Puzzling Dr. Sweet, who might be a mad psychiatrist from a shadowy government agency or just a shared hallucination.
Ticking away at the center of all this madness is Peter Evans, an intense young escapee from a funny farm whose calm intellect masks seething paranoid schizophrenia. Will this mix explode? Of course.
Something niggles away under the dark comedy, however, something that director Alan Patrick Kenny identified and carefully, slyly celebrates in his passionate New Stage Collective production.
Like every other mortal being, Agnes and Peter deserve the chance to give and take love. When they seize a chance, does it matter that their affection expresses itself in violent confrontations, imagined infestations of aphids, self-inflicted wounds and ultimate self-immolation? No.
What does matter is that the production is well structured and intensely played. There are stalwart performances from Jennifer Dalton as R.C., Daniel Pitt as Goss and Drew Fracher (who also staged the violence) as Dr. Sweet. There are breathtaking performances from Sherman Fracher as Agnes -- easily the most crafted, subtle work I've yet seen her do -- and from ever-inventive Christopher Guthrie as Peter.
Act I is a directorial gem. As the pace and violence of Act II go over the top, the focus gets a whit frazzled.
Would you be jolted by Bug? Absolutely. Would you enjoy it? Possibly, but not in any usual way. Might you admire it as something truly ugly that's also art? Yep.
BUG, presented by New Stage Collective, continues through April 27. The production includes extensive full nudity. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.