I could see from the promo photos that iTheatre Collaborative's production of Bug re-uses Christopher Haines' evocative cheap-motel box set from Eat the Taste earlier this season, which is great by me. I can think of several other plays that would also look terrific in that little outpost of hopelessness, so I'd hold on to it as long as possible. Besides, when you've got a set with several working doors, it's hard to say goodbye to it.
The current resident is Agnes White (Shannon Whirry), a wounded but good-hearted Oklahoman who, despite violence, loss, and other kicks in the pants, has not yet given up on life. Alcohol, country music, and the occasional line of coke help keep her spirits up.
Somebody's after Agnes, and somebody's after Peter Evans, a charming but fidgety stranger who stops by on his way to a party. Before long, Peter sees and feels little bugs everywhere, and maybe Agnes does, too. There's plenty of blood and booze and crack and assault for everybody, with sides of paranoia and stupidity. (Advance materials state that the show is not for children under 17.)
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For the most part, the play puts the "fun" back in dysfunction; although I felt for the characters, they made us laugh a lot -- once in a while, at moments when I realized I didn't really want to. If you know some broken-down losers, are one yourself, or just play one on TV, you'll see well-rounded depictions of the peaks and valleys from Whirry and from Greg Lutz as Peter. (If you have flashbacks, Bug may actually help you process. But it'll also make you itch a little.)
Director Michael Traylor's deft hand with Tracy Letts' tricky script kept things from going too far into either melodrama or mayhem, as far as I'm concerned. Whirry is a versatile and dynamic actress, and Lutz brings a consistent pathetic energy to a very difficult role. A few other characters slip in and out of the room, failing at every attempt to change anything, and leaving Agnes and Peter to their claustrophobic plunge.
Bug continues through Saturday, May 16, at the Performance Outreach Theater on the north side of the Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street. For tickets, $16 in advance and $20 at the door, call 602-347-1071 or order here.