Under your skin
Reno, NV 89501
Is it a black comedy dressed up as a horror show, or is it a psychological thriller that you laugh at to keep from crying? I don’t know the answer, but I know I like it.
Brüka Theatre’s production of Bug is not for everyone. Hell, it’s probably not for most people. If full frontal nudity, casual abuse of hard drugs, and freshets of blood are not your cup of tea, you may just want to skip Bug and head to the local multiplex to see the latest Katherine Heigl rom-com again. However, if you’re interested in an intimate look at the slippery dangers of loneliness and the illogical lengths to which people will go to maintain a co-dependent relationship, you might find Bug to be a rewarding experience—if you’ve got a strong stomach.
Linda Noveroske stars as Agnes, a lonely, wounded woman holed up in an Oklahoma motel room, dodging her ex, passing the time waitressing and partying with her buddy R.C. (Jamie Plunkett, lending strong support). Enter Peter (RN&R contributor Scott Reeves), an awkward but apparently gentle drifter looking for a friend. Something about Peter seems off, and it soon becomes obvious that he has serious issues. The play gets its title from the physical manifestation of Peter’s problem, but what makes it a great play is the subtext, how the flaws of two troubled people can complement and amplify each other in a closed system. Watching Bug develop is like watching a trainwreck—if the train were filled with zombies and ax murderers. And I mean that in the best possible way.
As a big fan of William Friedkin’s 2006 film version, I can’t resist putting the production in a bit of context. Brüka’s Reeves has huge shoes to fill in a part originated onstage by Michael Shannon. Shannon was so good onstage that when Friedkin (The Exorcist) decided to make a screen adaptation of the play, he refused to buckle to studio pressure to cast a name-brand actor, instead betting the farm on Shannon. You may remember Shannon for his Oscar-nominated role in 2008’s Revolutionary Road. He casts a long shadow. Happily, Reeves brings both legitimate chops and totally different qualities to the character, and the audience won’t spend time comparing him to anyone else.
As Agnes, Noveroske is outstanding. She brings a resigned, tough brand of sadness to a character that could easily be insufferable in lesser hands. The character of Agnes has a sharp dramatic arc, and Noveroske’s final monologue, when things are really going off the rails, is superb. It’s funny, vulnerable and devastating in the right proportions. Like Reeves, Noveroske’s commitment to her character is almost disturbing.
The production’s only real flaw is inconsistency with some of the accents, which can be distracting. However, it’s a minor ingredient in an otherwise well-balanced recipe. As Peter’s doctor, RN&R movie reviewer Bob Grimm chews the scenery like a woodchuck on PCP, but in fairness, anything less would be insufficient for the final act of this freakshow. The set and technical elements are particularly excellent—both intimate and convincing. Circling helicopters and thrumming air conditioners will make you forget you’re in a theater, and the set change for the final scene is worthy of applause on its own. Finally, the use of music in the play is textbook, underscoring the material’s inherently forlorn atmosphere and its strong regional flavor. When you do notice it, you notice it in a good way.
On the whole, director Dave Richards has whipped up a wonderfully unpleasant night at the theater. You won’t bring your grandmother to Bug, but if you’re the type who likes a closer look at something that isn’t pretty, you’ll enjoy the morbid exhilaration of witnessing this intense little picnic go way past too far.