Bug | 03.10.12

theat bugI don’t blame Muddy Waters for my displeasure, as its presentation was solid, as were the two lead actors.


Disappointed. Gratuitous. Insane. Itchy.

These were a few of the words circling my brain as we left the Black Box Theatre at the Kranzberg Cultural Arts Center.

I can’t recommend Muddy Waters Theatre’s choice of Bug as its season opener. In fact, seeing as this is the first of three Tracy Letts’ productions by the troupe this season, I fear for what lies ahead.

By its first act alone, Bug tells the story of white trash 44-year-old Agnes (Kirsten Wylder) and much younger white oddity Peter (Justin Ivan Brown). The two are thrown together—improbably—by a coworker of Aggie’s who just happens to meet Peter (where? A bar? Who can remember) and bring him by her friend’s house. Drugs are snorted and smoked, then the whiny Aggie bows out of a party and Peter, without reason, decides to stay behind.

Aggie makes her residence in a fleabag motel (why? Who can say). Her abusive ex-husband has just been released from jail; though she has a restraining order against him, that doesn’t stop either him from coming around (and expecting to pick up with his wife where he’d left off) or her from letting him; calling the police doesn’t even register. Ten years ago, while they were married, Aggie “lost” their son, Lloyd, in that he disappeared from a grocery cart while she stepped momentarily away.

I want there to be more than Aggie; I want to empathize with her, sympathize with her, root for her. But she spends the entirety of the play in her crappy motel bed, smoking, drinking, and drugging, and whining—oh, does the woman like to whine. A lot. Oh, and did I mention she has a Southern accent? You are correct in surmising that the whining grows even more annoying when delivered with such a twang.

Peter’s an oddity, but I liked him at first, I really did. His socialization skills were off; he was a loner, and he was OK with that. Until he wasn’t. Until he told Aggie his “secret” at the end of Act I and forever changed the projector of the play. Until Bug ceased being about two lost people finding each other and became a conspiracy-theory/psychotic-break tale.

And the bug in the title? Yep, it’s there for a reason, and not just because Aggie hears what she thinks is a cricket in the first half. (Surely you can see how I’d think that.) Nope, it’s there because bugs infest the motel room, and Peter and Aggie as its inhabitants. In the second half, there is so much scratching going on that I couldn’t help from running my own fingernails over my skin a time or two. (Maybe three or four. But you’ll have to trust I was self-conscious about it.)

Muddy Waters co-founder and Artistic Managing Director Cameron Ulrich (he runs the troupe with his wife, Patty) called Bug “an X-Files episode on crack” in the Director’s Note, and he wasn’t far off; trouble is, is that a selling point or a turnoff?

Also mentioned in the aforementioned Note is something the playwright’s mother said: “Everybody in Tracy’s stories gets naked or dead.” And herein lies complaint number—ah, who’s counting? Nudity. Purely gratuitous nudity. The characters strip and move around the stage naked; they strip and hold each other naked; they strip and stand naked, daring us not to look. But why? I’m not a prude, but everything for a reason, especially in the terse language of a theatrical production. Unlike a book, a play has two hours or less to tell its story, which means that everything counts. Sure, nudity’s fine if there’s a reason for it: Does it propel the story? Does it explain the characters? Does it foretell something else?

Sadly, the answers here are no, no, and no. And sadly, that word is the one that will likely be on your lips as you leave the theater: Did you like the play? No. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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