Bug's actors work hard
By Tracy Letts. Presented by Hardline Productions and Battered Women’s Support Services. At the Shop Theatre on Friday, February 14. Continues until March 1
The young actors do excellent work, even though they are performing in one of the worst plays I’ve ever seen.
Tracy Letts’s writing in August: Osage County comes across as a superficial imitation of Edward Albee’s. His Bug looks like cut-rate Sam Shepard. In scripts such as Curse of the Starving Class, Shepard finds poetry and profundity in squalor. In Bug, Letts finds voyeuristic thrills.
Agnes White is down and out and living in a motel room in Oklahoma. She smokes cocaine and drinks vodka and Coke for breakfast as she waits for the inevitable visit from her ex-husband, Jerry, a batterer, who has just been released from prison. When her lesbian friend RC introduces her to the soft-spoken Peter, Agnes is actively seeking emotional refuge.
Peter is clearly insane, though, a paranoid lunatic, which makes the play’s trajectory both predictable and alienating. You could argue that Bug is about how we fall in love: we hear what we want to hear and we’ll trade a lot for safety. But it comes as no surprise when Peter’s concerns about bugs in the bed escalate into full-scale raving about how the army is conducting medical experiments on him. Because Peter is so obviously unsafe, I didn’t invest in Agnes’s relationship with him for a split second. For me, the story has no centre.
As a result, I find the play’s extremity and violence—there’s copious bloodshed as well as madness—vulgar. Bug seems designed to make suffering entertaining, to make audience members gasp, “That was so intense!”
Despite this schlocky container, Genevieve Fleming does by far the best work I’ve seen from her as Agnes. Although I didn’t buy the world created by the script, I bought every moment of Fleming’s characterization. She’s credible in repose: exhausted, yearning, dirtied. And she listens beautifully: the look on her face when Peter says “I’m just lookin’ for a friend” is heartbreaking.
As Peter, Jay Clift also delivers. Especially off the top, you can see how beautifully simple his performance is: he’s pure quiet—albeit somewhat spooky—responsiveness.
Bug is goofy, though, in my opinion. The woman sitting next to me said that she couldn’t breathe for the last 20 minutes. I couldn’t wait for it to be over.