Review: Boston Events Insider

By Revonda Pokrzywa, Boston Events Insider

3.5 out of 5 stars

In a seedy motel room on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, cocktail waitress Agnes invites an aloof Gulf War veteran, Peter, to spend the night. Peter identifies a hidden bug infestation in the room, and undertakes efforts to eradicate it. The two, fueled by drugs and isolation, start to unhinge as they dig deep to uncover the source of the mysterious pests. What begins as a minor annoyance escalates into a full-blown conspiracy theory that threatens to unravel the final traces of reality. Click for review! The Factory Theatre, Boston, MA.

When one hears about a play with a name like "Bug" which involves a nightmarish descent into paranoia, the adjective "Kafkaesque" naturally comes to mind. In this case, unlike in so many others, the term is appropriate. "Bug" is written by Pulitzer prize winning playwright Tracy Letts and has already been turned into a film. It is currently being performed by Flat Earth Theatre from July 29-August 6, 2011 at the Factory Theatre in Boston with direction by Jake Scaltreto. "Bug" pulls the audience into a microcosm of madness, and invites them to question what is real. In "Bug," an abused waitress is introduced to an ex-soldier with possible delusions of persecution. The two, bonded by intense loneliness, feed upon each other's paranoia as they deal with an ex-husband and an aphid infestation. The infestation becomes almost impossible to eradicate. This task is made more difficult by the fact that only they can even see the bugs. As this infestation grows, they begin to uncover a sinister conspiracy that involves the bugs, and everyone they know.

In "Bug," we are drawn into the seedy motel room of Agnes White portrayed by Julie Becker. It is here that I must congratulate the set designer, Nate Kruback. I had no trouble at all believing that Agnes' motel room could host an insect infestation. The details were perfect, from the peeling Fleur-de-lis wallpaper to the bad hotel painting on the wall. The dinginess of the set mirrors that of Agnes herself. Agnes is already a woman on the edge before she meets ex-soldier Peter Evans, played by James Hayward. In between lines of coke and hits off a crack pipe, she stamps around her motel room and yells into a phone that constantly rings, but has no one on the other end. When her friend, R.C. played convincingly by Emily Hecht, arrives with Peter in tow, the sense of menace is already in place. This expectation is soon fulfilled by Agnes' ex-husband, Jerry. Stephen James DeMarco's Jerry is reminiscient of Brando's Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire". He is brutal, but still remains a sympathetic character. If Jerry were the only antagonist, "Bug" would not be nearly as disturbing. It is soon revealed that true menace is self-inflicted.

When the bugs finally appear, it is easy to see them as a manifestation of the troubles plaguing Agnes and Peter. Agnes' domestic troubles are paralleled in Peter's falling out with the military. Both are terrorized by forces greater than themselves. But perhaps it is not that simple, perhaps their conspiracy theories are true. There is the constant buzz of helicopters in the distance, an unordered pizza is delivered, and the creepy Dr. Sweet shows up uninvited. Dr. Sweet, played by Tim Fairley, has a relatively minor role time-wise in "Bug". However, the aura of wrongness that he is able to project makes Peter's tale of medical experimentation all the more believable. This uncertainty is the driving force of "Bug". We are never sure just how far Agnes and Peter's delusions extend and where reality begins.

The intimacy of this production gives the audience of "Bug" the initial feeling of having been invited into a stranger's home following a night out at a club. You know, the one that you second-guess yourself about following but end up going anyway. While this intimacy works well in the beginning for Flat Earth Theatre's "Bug", later it spoils the illusion. The stabbings, self-mutilation, and drug use seem ritualistic, rather than true and desperate acts. The overpowering smell of Palmolive fake blood permeates the theatre. I ended up not quite believing that Agnes, R.C., Peter, Jerry, or Dr. Sweet were real people. Rather they became characters in a darkly urban fairytale.

That said, Flat Earth Theatre's "Bug" is worth seeing. Although the overall production may not be as slick as the film version, there is something intensely compelling about it. While I would not recommend this as a first date option, I would suggest going to it with friends. The cost is about the same as the latest popcorn superhero flick and you will have a lot more to talk about afterwards.