Capital T's return to Tracy Letts territory hasn't the buzz of 2009's Killer Joe
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., June 11, 2010
Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, www.capitalt.org
Through June 26, running time: 2 hr., 20 min.
Tracy Letts writes some ugly plays. He writes about people on the lower end of the economic shuffle: mechanics and waitresses and ex-cons. This is the second Letts play produced in
the last year by Capital T at Hyde Park Theatre, and the first, Killer Joe, proved to be so popular that Capital T put it up for two different runs at the venue.
If you saw Joe and you see Bug, you won't find a lot of difference between the characters in the two plays. They drink heavily, indulge in illegal substances, and tend toward violence when they don't get what they want. You'll also find similarities in their living conditions – the characters in Joe resided in a run-down trailer, and the main character in Bug, Agnes, lives in a run-down motel room (and, by the looks of it, has lived there for a long, long time). What you won't find is a similarity between the scripts. Joe was funny because the characters in it were so selfish, ignorant, and just plain stupid that it was easy to laugh at them. Bug, on the other hand, has moments of humor, but for the most part plays as drama. The characters are selfish, sure, but not necessarily ignorant or stupid, and that makes their plight a lot more difficult to stomach.
Some might find comparing one show to the other problematic, but Capital T invites the comparison by selling Bug as being produced by the same team that produced Joe. Four of the five cast members – Kenneth Wayne Bradley, Katie deBuys, Melissa Recalde, and Joey Hood – also appeared in Joe, and Mark Pickell, Capital T's artistic director, directed both shows. But where Joe had a relentless, and quite effective, tempo, Bug is slow, especially in the first act. DeBuys as Agnes and Hood as Peter, a stranger who manages to catch Agnes' eye and then infect her in more ways than one, get most of the stage time, and in the first act they seem to take a pause after every line. They also sometimes deliver their lines so quietly that you have to strain to hear. Put together a slow tempo and quiet voices, and the effect is enervating. Adam Hilton's sound design often doesn't help. During one scene in the second act, the sound is so loud, it completely detracts from the scene being played onstage.
Now it may be that Letts suggested this kind of line delivery in his script. If he did, director Pickell and his actors should have made different choices. Not only does the delivery not make sense in a technical way, it doesn't make sense in terms of the story. Through much of the play, the characters are either freebasing or snorting cocaine, a stimulant, but these people appear to be anything but stimulated. Some of the performances work well – Bradley as ex-con Jerry and Melissa Recalde as the somewhat rude and radical RC energize the show every time they step on the stage – and the show's concept of a radical government organization planting bloodsucking bugs inside a human body is interesting, but for the most part Bug, just like its insect cousins, made me want to wave my hands around my head and say, "Cut it out!"