One thing’s for sure, Bootless Stageworks can never be accused of performing standard theatre fare. This plucky company has carved out quite a niche for themselves over the years and is now carving out a permanent home as well. And while their performance space is still mid-renovation it actually provides an ideal setting for their latest offering, BUG by popular contemporary playwright (and actor), Tracy Letts (most well known for penning August: Osage County).
BUG tells the story of Agnes (Heather Ferrel), an abused wife hiding from society in a seedy motel. Her friend Roni (Melissa Kearney) shows up one night with an odd guy named Peter (Geremy Webne-Berhman). Peter, needing a place to stay, ultimately stays with Agnes as their lives start to become entwined. Meanwhile, Agnes’ abusive ex-husband, Jerry (David Hastings), fresh from prison, is trying to bust his way back into her life.
Ferrel does an amazing job bringing Agnes to life. We can feel her loneliness, helplessness, and fear almost from the moment she steps on to the stage. Watching her transformation through the piece is quite a study in human nature. Ferrel hooks the audience completely.
Webne-Berhman for his part is no slacker either. He is given a challenging role fraught with its own transformations. There are also circumstantial character traits that have to be applied throughout the play and Webne-Berhman steps into them quite nicely. The role of Peter is an immensely difficult one to keep in the realm of believability, but Webne-Behrman’s effort and talent manage the job.
Hastings does a fantastic job of bringing some humanity to his character almost to the point of making us question if he really is all that bad for Agnes. The answer should be black and white, but it is definitely left in a gray area.
Kearney does a nice job with Roni. She is a caring friend but still a party girl at heart. Kearney’s performance leaves us wishing Roni was in more scenes.
Also, rounding out the cast is Dr. Sweet (Andre N. Jones). I can’t say much about Dr. Sweet as I don’t want to spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that Jones, in his short appearance, manages to garner both sympathy for and suspicion of his character.
The first act of BUG plays out almost like a Lifetime Drama of the Week. It is engaging, and oddly intimate. My companion for the evening noted that it felt like we were invading the main characters’ privacy, and I would have to agree. We were flies on the wall, as it were, to a very awkward time.
But things rapidly change in Act II. Make no mistake, BUG is a deeply disturbing psychological exercise. We quickly transition from Lifetime movie to something much, much darker. It is at this point where personal tastes and sensibilities will determine if you thoroughly enjoy the experience, or become uncomfortable and disengage.
For me it was the latter. However, I want to make it perfectly clear that I felt the cast did a tremendous job throughout, including the ending. They were clearly dedicated and committed. My concerns lie entirely in the writing. And while I am chomping at the bit to discuss those concerns, I can’t do it in a spoiler-free way. So I will reserve them. But, again, it comes down to sensibilities. I am not one for horror or psychological thrillers. But many people are, and I imagine the ending will leave them quite thoroughly satisfied.
Do note that this production contains strong language, herbal cigarette smoke, and lots of simulated drug use. So children and those easily offended should not attend.
Regardless of how I ultimately feel about BUG, Bootless Stageworks puts on a tremendous production. And Letts’ dialogue is very real and relatable. A talented writer, a talented troupe. What more could you ask for? Well, except maybe a little better ending….but that’s just me.
by Tracy Letts
Directed by Rosanne DellAversano
February 27 – March 14, 2014
Bootless Stageworks (at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church)
1301 N. Broom St.