by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Players by the Sea opened a two weekend run of “Bug,” a comic and creepy play by Pulitzer Prize/Tony Award winning playwright Tracy Letts. If you look at the published season for PBTS you won’t see “Bug” on the list, as it is an attraction added when some time in the Studio Theatre was available in an already busy season. No doubt the decision to do this was influenced by last December’s successful production of “Superior Donuts” by Letts.
Remember if you are itching to see “Bug” that the last two performances are March 30 and 31, and with only about 75 seats in the theatre, we suggest making reservations early.
Who’s it for? If you appreciate fine acting, this is for you, unless of course you get scared watching films with titles like “Arachnophobia” or “Mothra.” Perhaps you had better read on before you decide.
All the action takes place in a small motel outside Oklahoma City, in a room that has seen better days. When was the last time you stayed at a motel and got a real key for the door, not a plastic card? The set designed by the Director McTiernan and Brian Grant features interior walls in flamingo orange-pink, a bed with a coordinating flowered spread, a few additional furnishings, many scattered bottles, and a view of an exterior cement block corridor. The costumes by Lindsay Curry (who is also Assistant Director) include jeans, shorts, and shirts in drab colors; fashion is a non-priority for these characters. Jim Wiggins’ lighting design adds significantly to the overall feeling of the play.
The main character is Agnes, an alcohol/cocaine abusing cocktail waitress, who has moved into the motel hoping to conceal her whereabouts from her abusive ex-husband, a thug just recently released after serving time for his last robbery. The only friend Agnes has in the world is Ronnie, a biker lesbian pal, who drops in and drops off Peter, a young, wandering Gulf War veteran she has befriended. Peter appears to be very shy, introverted, and a nice guy. Agnes, who is very lonely and has not had a man’s company in a long time, wants to help him and allows him to stay with her. On a subsequent night, they acknowledge their mutual sexual attraction, and then the play takes a serious and macabre turn.
Peter claims to have discovered bedbugs after a session of lovemaking, and then becomes obsessed with finding and eradicating them. He begins talking about the war and as he becomes more agitated, talks about how the Army has implanted bugs under his skin and in his blood stream, and continues with escalating theories of government conspiracies that threaten everyone.
Agnes soon becomes convinced that Peter is correct about the bugs and their origins. They start their days with a breakfast that includes vodka and coke, and follow that with frequent chasers as they spend the rest of the day focused on combating bugs. The couple has two disruptive encounters with Jerry, her menacing ex-husband, who attacks her physically, takes her money and promises to return. He doesn’t much like Peter.
Act II turns even wilder, as the room has been readied to battle the bugs, all bugs in fact, with insect sprays, flypaper traps, microscopes to study the bugs, and tinfoil taped up everywhere to thwart the harmful radio signals the bugs emit.
Well, we will leave the outcome of the couple’s plight for you to discover, but don’t expect a happy ending.
Director Joshua Kreis McTiernan’s excellent casting and direction made “Bug” outstanding and his sound effects design was very realistic and added to the edginess of the play. Last year, he brought his original play “The Creationists” to Players stage, after he produced and directed it at his alma mater, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. McTierman is a Jacksonville native, who has just returned home after eight months of teaching English for the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. Could a play about this experience be coming in the future?
Evelyn Peralta as Ronnie may be the most attractive biker we have ever seen, and she was impressive in this small but important role. Ms. Peralta made her debut at Players as Adela in “The House of Bernarda Alba.”
Seth Langner, who has become a regular at Players in a variety of roles, appears as Dr. Sweet in the second act, a military psychiatrist who arrives to take Peter back for additional treatments to the institution from which he escaped. Langner was very believable in this role.
As Jerry Gross, the rough and tough ex-con, Juan Carlos Unzueta was truly frightening. Unzueta usually and frequently has been found on the local stages either in a featured role or the leading role in a musical. He may have launched a new career path as a menacing brute; can the lead in “Sweeney Todd” be in the future?
Jonathan Ross as the troubled Peter gives a remarkable performance but if you are a PBTS regular you already know how talented this young actor is. His debut was in Al Letson’s “Crumbs,” then on to play the serious son in “Dividing the Estate” and to present his excellent one-man show called “the burbs” in the PBTS Jacksonville Fringe Festival last summer.
Kasi Walters in the leading role of Agnes has also been a regular on the PBST stage, but this portrayal is far more demanding than anything she has done in the past. Ms. Walters aces this part. Agnes’ descent into insanity perhaps started a number of years ago when her young son disappeared; by the time of the play she has given up hope and has stopped searching. This plus an abusive husband and the drugs and alcohol certainly have made her vulnerable to Peter’s engulfing paranoid delusions. When Players presents the annual Pelican Awards at the end of the summer, her performance is sure to be among those nominated.
If you have read this far, you may conclude that this paranoid thriller may not be for everyone, but if seeing fine performances is the name of your game, you would certainly be bugged if you miss this edgy production.
Players by the Sea is located at 106 Sixth Street North, Call 249-0289 for reservations or visit playersbythesea.org.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM