In a seedy Oklahoma motel room, a lonely waitress begins an unexpected love affair with a young drifter. And then they see the first bugs...Tracy Letts's mind-bending cult classic - a luridly funny tale of love, paranoia, and government conspiracy roars back to Chicago for its Steppenwolf debut.
"...But few things, surely, are as exciting for a Chicago theater-goer as seeing a work with such an off-Loop DNA being expanded and exploded in this way, now the work of mature but still-fearless artists who are at the peak of their international careers. I doubt Broadway has the capacity or appetite for more Letts this year, but you never know."
"...The plot is part noir, part love story, part psychological thriller. Agnes (Carrie Coon) lives on the margins of society in the grimy hotel, spending her days getting high and mourning the son she lost when he was abducted from a supermarket years earlier. Her ex-con ex-husband Jerry (Steve Key) is an unwelcome guest. He tried to kill her once. He'll probably try again. When Agnes' best friend R.C. (Jennifer Engstrom, whose blowsy majesty will make you wish R.C. was your best friend, too) introduces her to the quiet, thoughtful Peter (Namir Smallwood), Agnes sees both a safety line and a man whose kindness soothes like a balm in Gilead."
"...A combination love story, psychodrama, dark comedy and horror tale, "Bug," by Tracy Letts, is a wholly riveting account of a paranoid Gulf War veteran and the hard-up, heartbroken waitress who comes to share his obsession."
"...Peter's paranoia exhibits as a multilayered theory about the millions of militarized bugs he believes his body fell prey to after a state-sanctioned experiment on citizen surveillance went wrong. A former soldier, Peter's PTSD is palpable and raw. As originally written by Letts, Agnes is 17 years Peter's senior. She takes him to bed, but their relationship isn't overtly sexual. They bond over the chips stacked against him and the ways the world has wronged them. While Agnes doesn't initially exhibit any signs of her own mental illness, she is easily caught up in Peter's panic. Her cultural contagion feels just as applicable today as it did nearly 25 years ago in a political climate where polarization works. We're all just trying to survive."
"...With Bug, Lett's is implying that love, desire and belief can be as contagions as any vermin infestation or deadly virus. And Bug is also horrifyingly topical, especially with so many conspiracy theories and untruths shared locally and globally on social media. Steppenwolf's Bug will truly haunt you."
"...Coon and Smallwood's performances are perfectly calibrated for Cromer's deliberate pacing and eye for quietude. They're flinty and lived-in, with a dry sense of wit-the play is very funny-and a tight lid on their feelings. An expert at navigating between strength and vulnerability, Coon never oversells Agnes's loneliness or longing; those emotions just seem to ooze out of her pores. And Smallwood's reasonable tone is as unsettling as wild-eyed raving. (That the actor is black gives added dimension to Peter's paranoia.) The slow burn of the script and performances build to a kind of ambush. By the time you realize how bad things have gotten, it's far too late-a sensation that audiences today might find scarily familiar."
"...Remarkably enough, though Letts is a longtime ensemble member at Steppenwolf, the current production is the company's first staging of "Bug," which had its premiere in London in 1996 and opened for the first time in Chicago five years later at A Red Orchid Theatre. It's pretty raw stuff, as grim as it is bizarre, like watching two souls caught in a drainage swirl, plunging toward oblivion."
"...From the get-go, a distinct sense of unease permeates the atmosphere, despite the elaborately casual grace of the performers. As the action progresses, and paranoia infests the protagonists, we bear witness to the destruction of mentation, of human connections, and ultimately of all sensation. Hand in hand with the droning buzz of tension, accented by unusual intrusive sound effects, is a deeply black and oddball strain of absurdist humor: a truly "Steppenwolfian" melange."
"...The skin-crawling play is unnerving, to say the least; however, the performers are outstanding, drawing you into every sensation that is hatching. Tracy Letts was ahead of his time when he wrote this far-fetched story before the explosion of the internet. The assessment of government surveillance and paranoia schizophrenia is even more ominous in the world we live in today."
"...There are many who will stay away from the current production on the stage at Steppenwolf Theatre just because of the title, "Bug". For example, my wife opted not to attend as she was afraid of dreams about bugs. There are a number of people who are definitely in that position. This play, written by Steppenwolf's own Tracy Letts , right on the heels of his "Killer Joe" is a very nitty-gritty look at real people. Yes, they may be different than the majority of those sitting in the audience watching with you, but then again, on theother hand, some of the peole sitting alongside you may have someo fhte same inner thoughts."
"...David Cromer’s new production of Tracy Letts’ horror story is magnificent. His production focuses on two lonely outcasts brought together by their mutual need for each other. The story binds Agnes and Peter together in a story of love and survival, set amidst a background of drugs, violence, paranoia, psychotic delusions, supposed secret government experiments and conspiracy theories. Slowly Agnes sinks into the morass of madness with Peter, as she gives herself entirely to the man she’s come to love."
"...The revival of "Bug" comes at a time in American life when conspiracy theories abound and paranoia is part of the social air we breathe. The premises in "Bug" may come across as outlandish, but then again, consider the record shaped by the social media and warring political forces. What was once disregarded as fanciful now appears worthy of consideration, and apprehension. So for many spectators "Bug" invites comparison with parallels in real life. But "Bug" carves out a special place in the modern American theater canon primarily because it is a splendid dramatic foray into the fearsome unknown. No production can claim to be definitive version of this shifting narrative. The David Cromer version is not the last word in Letts's narrative but it remains a stand-alone classic."
"...Cromer’s smart direction brings out superb performances from the two leading actors. Coon (who we know from Steppenwolf’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, FX’s “Fargo” and HBO’s “The Leftovers”) is agonizingly sad as the women who has lost a son and yearns for connection. She achieves the Oklahoma accent in Letts’ dialog (text and dialect coaching by Gigi Buffington). Smallwood (True West and BLKS) is mesmerizing as a man with the pure conviction that his body has been taken over. Engstrom and Key are perfectly cast in this quartet of veteran Chicago actors. Randall Arney also has a brief and terrifying scene as a doctor."
"...Bug may not be a new work, but it's reborn in 2020. In an interview, Letts mentions that he initially wrote the play in response to the paranoia following the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. Since then, we've survived and witnessed countless terrorist attacks and climate disasters around the globe, with only pessimistic scientific predictions on the horizon. Letts' exploration of paranoia, of how ideas fester and grow under the lens of collective pain, feels ever-more relevant now. Something insidious sinks in during Bug, burrowing deep into your psyche. The production isn't just representative of the best of Steppenwolf, but the best of theatre itself: a terrifying masterpiece featuring some of the most talented artists of our time. Run, don't crawl, to Steppenwolf Theatre."
- Emily Schmidt
Storefront Rebellion - Highly Recommended
"...Cromer's perfectly paced revival couldn't have asked for better timing. Monday night's opening performance coincided with the extraordinary meltdown of the Iowa caucuses, whose many irregularities led some Democratic campaigns to allege malpractice; Twitter boiled over with cries of collusion against one candidate or another. And as I write this on Thursday morning, the president is giving a meandering post-impeachment press conference alleging criminal activity by a long list of his personal enemies."
"...Ultimately, the fact that we almost slip with Agnes and Tony into this delusion is part of the game. We live today in a world that has run amok with conspiracy theories of every kind. They are omnipresent on social media and the web. The president buys into several of them, spouting them at his rallies. No wonder it is so difficult to tell the truth from the lies for so many people these days. Bug was written in the 1990s, but its relevance has (sadly) only grown as it ages. Letts may say it is a love story, but it is a highly singular one in which, he makes clear, it is always possible to find just the right person to fit perfectly into whatever your life might be. Even in a world of dark conspiracies, there is something comforting about that."
"...Playgoers nostalgic for the intimacy that once set spectators to squirming and whimpering at the prospect of bugs-zoological or electronic-may still find consolation in noting the point in the performance time when the audience members who giggled during the first sightings of hallucinatory microbes suddenly fall silent, lest they miss learning the names of the bosses officiating over these unseen events. In 2020, FOMO is the scariest that we can imagine."
"...While this is certainly a play for adult audiences only, it is highly recommended to all those who are age-appropriate. It is powerful, poignant, and shockingly relevant despite premiering over 20 years ago. You too will likely leave the show scratching your body for bugs, and your head for answers—the bitemark of a good play, indeed."