NOTE: This production contains nudity, violent language and actions, and potential triggers for survivors of domestic violence.
OKC Theatre Company and Ghostlight Theatre Club have teamed up for a truly creepy production of Tracy Letts’ play “BUG” directed by Lance Garrett. Even given minor limitations imposed by safety concerns, this production is disturbingly real. The technical skills of the director, the designers, and the actors combine to bring us into a sad and ugly world and meet some people who live there—and who live in our world as well.
Staged in the intimate Cityspace Theatre at the Civic Center Music Hall, the show brings the audience inside the interlocking spirals of a crack addict and a schizophrenic as they deal with an infestation in a seedy motel room. Agnes, played with quirky detail by Paula Dawson, is a divorced waitress living in a motel to avoid her abusive ex. Her friend RC (Christine Lanning) introduces her to Peter, a mild-mannered guy with his own quirks, played with meticulous insanity by Jeff Burleson. The two become interconnected as they deal with the unexpected appearance of Tyler Waits as Jerry the ex, who is now out of prison, and with the upsetting visit of Dr. Sweet (Jeni White).
Dawson and Burleson carry the show, and both show us believably damaged people. In the first act Burleson takes Peter into progressively problematic views of existence while Dawson’s Agnes becomes increasingly uncertain. In the second act, both become invested in a version of reality that may (or may not) be accurate. The accumulating tics and behavioral twitches travel that precarious line between convincing and distracting. This is a combination of good acting and careful direction, and it is not limited to the main characters.
Waits presents a truly frightening Jerry; his unexpected spurts of violence, his menacing physicality, and his intensely manipulative focus on Agnes are all too accurate aspects of domestic violence. Lanning and White also provide clearly defined and fully realized characters, brief though their appearances might be.
The play needs a believable environment, and the intricate and detailed set, crafted by designer and assistant director Scott Hynes, meets a high standard—one that is maintained throughout by the entire production team. Costumes, which contribute significantly to character, are coordinated by Jami Bustamante, soundscape is by Jason McKelvy, and the quiet and effective stage crew is competently run by stage manager Kory M. Kight.
The play itself is an exploration of madness, reality, and modern social paranoia. This production is a fine example of almost voyeuristic naturalism in theatre, and the play has no lessons to teach. Rather, it shows us an ugly side of life for many people today. The ending of the script offers an opportunity to see the characters making a self-aware choice; director Garrett does not takes us down this path. As the second act progresses, rapidly falling psychological and emotional dominos drive toward the ending without coming up for air, giving us little time for empathy or sympathy. By the end of the play, we are watching a beautifully crafted human train wreck.
“BUG” is at the Civic Center’s Cityspace Theatre through March 24. Shows are at 8:00 Thursday-Saturday with a 2:00 matinee on Sunday, March 24. Contact the OKC Theatre Company box office at 405-297-2264 or online at www.okctheatrecompany.org or at www.ghostlighttheatre.com.