Bug – Viking Theatre – Review by Frank L.
6 – 24 September – The Corps Ensemble
Bug was written by Tracy Letts and first performed in 1996. It is now revived by the Corps Ensemble. It is a play for five actors. Letts’s own mother had issues with drugs and his family life in Oklahoma was not conventional. There is a powerful dysfunctional element at the centre of this play even if alcoholism, drug addiction, broken relationships, delusions and paranoia are in the real world far more common than society is prepared to admit.
The play is set in a bedroom of a seedy motel on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. It appears to be “home” to Agnes (Mary Murray) as she has separated from her abusive partner. Her diet is primarily vodka and snorts of coke. The play begins with her pacing around the room interrupted by odd telephone calls, which when answered, are silent. It is a disturbing beginning as they represent the fag end of her relationship with Jerry (Edwin Mullane). Her lesbian friend R.C. (Toni O’Rourke) introduces her to a younger guy, Peter Evans (Rex Ryan), about whom little appears to be known other than he is a war veteran. He ensconces himself in Agnes’s life. Pretty quickly his obsessive personality expresses itself as he is convinced that there is a malevolent bug in the room. The hunt for this bug starts to dominate his actions. There then appears to be more than one bug. He infects Agnes with the idea that there are bugs in the room. They search obsessively for the bugs. As they do so, they find odd bugs on their bodies. So they are constantly having to pull the bugs from their skin with index finger and thumb. All the while Peter’s past remains somewhat murky. In the second act where the problems with the bugs have manifestly intensified, Dr. Sweet (Michael Bates) an army medical man reveals something more about Peters’ past. The paranoid world in which Peter lives has intensified. It has come to dominate his life and also now that of Agnes. Their lives descend into an ever more delusional state and in consequence increasingly violent.
As their delusions intensify the physical effects on their bodies become more apparent. Their thoughts become ever more delusional. Their bodies show the ravages of the bugs. What is real and what is imagined is hopelessly intertwined. Their own descent into some deeper mental chaos remorselessly continues. Paranoia is in the ascendant. It is engrossing if uncomfortable to watch.
Andrew Murray has created a set which portrays seediness. He also managed to alter the set partially with an addition of an inner wall to protect Peter and Agnes from an outside alien force. In the very limited resources of the Viking stage, this is some achievement. Another challenge the play creates is the need for obsessional, repetitive behaviour by Peter and Agnes as they snatch an unseen bug from their infested skin. Both Ryan and Murray surmount this demanding challenge …no mean feat.
Bug deals with delusions, paranoia and people whose every day existence is deeply challenging. There is an underlying bleakness in the play even if there are moments of comedy. It is not easy to watch but it manages to engage. Go see it.