BUG

Tue 22nd – Sat 26th May 2012

reviews

Sorcha Kurien-Walsh

at 00:11 on 23rd May 2012

2agrees

0disagrees

Tracy Letts’ second play features the dark comedy and Oklahoma setting of his more famous work- “August: Osage County”. Unlike the latter, it also features conspiracy theories, and insects. Entomophobes beware; the cosy Burton Taylor studio would be difficult to sneak out of unobserved. However, it serves as an ideal setting for this claustrophobic, though in my opinion finally limited, thriller.

Agnes White is living out of a motel room in fear of the release of her abusive, convict husband. Lonely and vulnerable, she takes an instant like to Gulf War veteran Peter Evans. Peter is sweet, intelligent and convinced that he is the subject of a government experiment involving “bloodsucking aphids”. What emerges is a sad folie a deux, in which Agnes succumbs to Peter’s delusions, with fatal consequences.

The action is confined to Agnes’ motel room, but director Illias Thoms maintains a sense of pace and tension throughout. Menacing mechanical noises heard in the background add to this sense of unease; the lighting, when varied, was effective but underused. Given the simplicity of the set, the task of engaging the audience finally fell to the cast. Henry Faber as Peter is particularly brilliant. The role calls for extreme mood swings, but Faber manages the tricky task of appearing both unhinged and completely natural. To his comedic lines in particular, he brings a manic energy-a quality lacking in other exchanges, which tended towards understatement. Nevertheless, Jill Hanley gave an equally strong performance as the quietly fragile Agnes.

However, I felt that the production outshone its material. Letts is a talented playwright, but “Bug” has a nascent, unfinished feel to it. Letts references madness, war and domestic abuse, but finally has very little to say on any of these subjects. It is almost as if they are mentioned merely to justify the presence of violence and hysteria, which are the play’s true interests. The Gulf War is a key plot point, and yet at its core the play is depoliticised. I don’t mean to imply that all plays should be radically polemical, merely that the absence of any context feels conspicuous. Letts’ reliance on stock characters does not help matters. Awkward, stuttering Peter is mad in the manner of all Hollywood eccentrics. The psychiatrist Dr Sweet, like many of his fictional colleagues across genres, is smug. Jerry Goss- Agnes’ hick husband- is a moronic wife-beater. And so it goes. This would be insufferable were it not for the witty dialogue and talent of the cast. And yet, though I was rapt during its performance, "Bug" left little impression.

agree
disagree

Tim Bano

at 00:28 on 23rd May 2012

2agrees

1disagrees

The setting is a motel room, full of used and tired-looking junk: a broken bed, propped up by bricks; a phone, cups (wrapped in cling film for some reason). And, of course, empty bottles (these seem to be obligatory in plays this term). It’s a familiar scene. It’s bland, it’s battered – anything can happen. What did happen was unexpected, it was unfamiliar. Script, sound and acting: all three were superb.

The beginning of the play was surprisingly gentle and the scenes on stage were accompanied by soft country music; accordingly the characters eased into their roles. Jill Hanley as Agnes had a slightly tough edge, but there was not enough there to convince me of what she had been through: an abusive husband, an estranged child, holed up in a motel room to escape life. She does do an American accent well, though. Barney Fishwick plays Goss, the husband, and he is a threatening figure; with a Deep South drawl and a powerful fist he was a notable presence on stage, dwarfed only by Henry Faber as Peter. When he first appeared he was quiet, seemingly nervous. His tactlessness, his habit of noticing and commenting on awkward little social norms led to a couple of humorous moments. His voice was initially monotonous but in a studied way - so we know that there is more underneath; it is exciting to wait for the unbridled moments, the raised voices. Whereas Fishwick is physically threatening, Faber is emotionally threatening; Goss will break your face, but Peter will break your mind, and that is a more complete destruction. And what makes Peter more threatening still is that he is not threatened by Goss.

And when Faber got a little more skittish, a little more buzzy, then it got really good. Throughout, there were unsettling sounds piped into the studio – the sort of sounds that drive you crazy: the hum of machinery, the rattle of a chopper, the intermittent bleating of a dying fire alarm, muffled conversation. It is like lying awake the night before an exam unable to sleep because the neighbours are having a party, or the ticking clock is deafening, or the gentle drone from the computer is boring its way deeper into your head. The sounds are maddening, and they propelled the increasing madness on stage.

Conspiracy theorists make me laugh. I know someone who is convinced that the world is run by Henry Kissinger and Queen Beatrix and that small robots run along his phone wire to listen in to his conversations (he is a very boring man, so that last theory can be refuted easily). Peter goes beyond this. His conviction that the US government experimented on him, planted bugs under his skin and drove him mad poses an interesting question: what do we believe? You can’t live like he does, paranoid, plastering the walls with aluminium foil, infecting those around him. The play preys on our insecurities – that we are slowly and steadily being screwed over by society, or by the government, or by whomever is the most convenient object of blame. This play is about trust and distrust. And what do we believe? That Peter is telling the truth about the CIA and the government, that he is drawn to Agnes as a kindred and messed up mind? Or that Peter is ill, that the mind is a vulnerable place, that reality, that life is what it is: repetitive, boring, brief?

While there are some weaker moments, and the production plods at points, these shortcomings are compensated by Faber. His acting is simply outstanding. Because of him, and because of the sound and the script this play is one of the most memorable student productions I have been to.

agree
disagree

Comments

Rosalind Gealy; 24th May 2012; 00:23:02

meant to give 5 stars accidentally clicked on 1, sorry! Go and see it now

William Winter; 27th May 2012; 19:51:05

I cannot disagree with either of the reviews, the production was extremely well performed, it is a shame that Jill Hanley (Agnes) is returning to the US at the end of June, I would have like to have seen her tackle other projects. If the audience took care to watch her on stage before the start of the play they would have noticed the tension and anxiety she was going through which was the lead up Goss coming back. The play for me started then and the tension just grew all the way through. Well done to all the cast and crew. I look forward to seeing more from you

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