Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Also see Kevin's review of Corpus Christi
South Florida is getting major influence from Chicago this season. Victory Gardens' scribe James Sherman presented his work, Affluenza!, at the Coral Gables-based New Theatre with positive results. Now it's time to put the spotlight on Tracy Letts of the Steppenwolf camp. His aptly titled Bug is getting a stellar if not blunt rendition at GableStage just two miles down the road.
Bug opened Off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theatre last February. It is a coup for GableStage to get a premiere of a recent play that is continuing its run. This is due to the dedication of its producing director Joseph Adler, always bringing visceral and provocative material to this region.
Bug continues in this tradition. The play is set outside of Oklahoma City and takes place in a run-down motel room where downtrodden waitress Agnes White resides. She spends her time freebasing and hanging out with her lesbian pal R.C. while trying to dodge her ex-husband, Jerry Goss. Jerry comes in from time to time, abusing Agnes mentally and physically. Even though Agnes wants to get away from Jerry, she fails every time.
R.C. brings in a hitchhiker named Peter Evans, who seems mild mannered at first. When Agnes takes a shine to Peter, they begin to connect. It doesn't take long for Peter's story to unravel, revealing that he is a Gulf War veteran. Peter claims he was used as a lab rat for shady tests. One test included inserting bugs into his bloodstream. Then, the real adventure starts!
Bug is written like a science fiction novel. Its story delves into places that will keep audience members on edge while making them squeamish. Containing brief shots of full frontals, the heart of Tracy Letts' work breeds graphic violence. Bug also pays homage to those TV movies we see on Lifetime of the battered woman and the triangle she gets caught up in. Unfortunately, Letts' ending, while climactic, is also very typical and convoluted.
Luckily for Letts and the patrons at GableStage, Joseph Adler brings a quintet of actors who keep the pace of the story action packed. Kathryn Lee Johnston (Agnes) creates a sensitive but harsh portrait of a woman whose hard luck has weakened her. Agnes didn't chose this route. This is the hand she was dealt: cocaine addiction and an abusive companion. Johnston makes us sympathize with Agnes, never making her weak.
Todd Allen Durkin (Peter) is all quiet in the beginning. He performs with intensity as a man who brings emotional baggage and wants us to listen to his plight. Every nerve ending in Durkin's body twitches, which makes the character believable. Durkin takes us into Peter's paranoia step by step, so that we understand who is at fault for making him this way.
David Caprita (Jerry) is menacing as the ex-husband. Caprita swaggers in the motel room like he owns the joint. If Johnston didn't give a strong radiance, Caprita would steal the scene every time he walks in the room. Ivonne Azurdia (R.C.) gives serviceable adherence as Agnes' buddy while Gregg Weiner gives a short cameo appearance as Peter's case worker, Dr. Sweet.
Rich Simone has taken in the essence of the ghetto in his set design. His motel room has shades of brown that gives off dark nuances. John Hall's lights blend in nicely, while Michael Hoffman's sound keeps up with the times, including country legends like Patsy Cline and George Jones.
Being an actor/director himself, Tracy Letts must have written Bug as a thespian's paradise. Any person can get deep into the psyche of these characters and have a field day. And if you can get past the bare skin and bloodbaths, you will have a field day with Bug as well. Just don't forget to bring your can of Raid and your conspiracy theory book.
Bug continues at GableStage until January 2nd, 2005 at 1200 Anastasia Avenue in Coral Gables. For tickets, please call (305) 445-1119 or www.gablestage.org.
GABLESTAGE - Bug
Cast: Kathryn Lee Johnston, Todd Allen Durkin, David Caprita,
Set Design: Rich Simone
Directed by Joseph Adler
-- Kevin Johnson