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Review: Bug

Will Coviello says the AllWays Theater’s production of Tracy Letts’ drama is fine, but hard to watch



In Bug, Agnes is a waitress who lives in a motel room, where she anesthetizes herself with booze, marijuana and cocaine. Her ex-husband has just been released from jail and he may or may not be the person who constantly calls her on the phone but never talks. The last thing she needs is another complication, and then Peter arrives. He's paranoid about chemicals in household products, foods and everywhere else, and it would seem that his broadly applied caution would offer her welcome peace or stability.

  Peter (Ian Hoch) is introverted but observant. He's concerned about the chemicals in the room's smoke detector, those used in producing her cocaine and whatever he was exposed to while fighting in the Gulf War. Especially when compared with her crass and menacing ex, Goss (Casey Groves), Peter is very appealing to Agnes (Jennifer Pagan).

  Bug is by Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), and Jonathan Mares produced an impressive version of Letts' violent thriller Killer Joe at Allways Lounge & Theatre in July 2013. Some of the same actors return in this production, and as in Killer Joe, financially strapped members of a broken family struggle to survive, but it's a very different story and type of drama. Bug is about emotional desperation and the otherwise unworthy things that can fill the voids in people's lives. It takes surprisingly little for Agnes to fall for Peter, and some of his obsessions, particularly over a motel infestation of tiny biting insects, draw them together.

  Pagan is excellent and she grounds the work, particularly in the slow-building first act, as everyone tries to impose their needs on her. She's wonderfully calm and steady in the face of loneliness and Goss' physical intimidation. Hoch is good as Peter, though at first he seems to underplay the troubled man's agitation. Andrea Watson has some of the work's few funny moments as the brassy lesbian R.C.

  Director Kris Shaw keeps the drama tense, jolting the story from its emotional morass with shocking outbursts, but it's a hard story to watch as Peter opens up about his fears and beliefs. The stage becomes jumbled with bug-fighting paraphernalia and the two indulge ever-more convoluted explanations of the hardships that have befallen them. They struggle to distinguish fact from fiction and the situation becomes increasingly volatile.

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