PICTURE THIS PRODUCTIONS and GRIFFIN INDEPENDENT present BUG by Tracey Letts at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.
First produced in London in 1996 and not until 2004 in New York, BUG by Tracey Letts opened in Sydney last Friday, 14th May,2010.
Set in a rundown motel room in Oklahoma City, that is the ‘home’ of Agnes (Jeanette Cronin), a dependent and abuser of cocaine, she both snorts and freebases it, an itinerant ex-Gulf War (Sakaka in the Syrian Desert) soldier, Peter Evans (Matthew Walker), drifts into her life having being introduced by her friend, R.C.(Catherine Terracini). The paranoia of two addicts combined with the post-traumatic stress of a war zone survivor explores the construct of conspiracy theories combined with the Federal Government agency, the C.I.A.
The final scene speeches from Peter: “They (the C.I.A.) devised a plan to manipulate technology, economics, the media, population control, world religion, to keep things the way they are….” and sprinkling it with references to Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, an “Intelligence Interface biochip”, Tim McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, all add to a feasibility that there is some truth to the obsessions of the couple and promote the possibility of even more covert drama. Certainly in the 1990’s after the Oklahoma City bombing the currency for such an exploration in the theatre may have had much potency. In 2010 Sydney, with the Global Finance Crisis whirling about us newer issues are higher up on our conscious concerns. The play feels slightly less urgent then it may have been in 1996.It is no less interesting, however.
Anthony Skuse the director, has with his artistic collaborators, constructed a, mostly, absorbing night in the theatre. Set and Costume Designer, Rita Carmody has built a believable motel room on a hand pushed circular revolve platform set in a black wall surround. The naturalistic details are apt and skilfully supported, allowing the rough and tumble of ‘bed –play’, and character mood changes. The lighting by Matt Cox is naturalistic and detailed effectively, creating the eerie atmosphere of the unsure footing of the escalating world of the ‘paranoias’ of the characters- expressionistic or otherwise as need be. Sound and Composition (Braedy Neal) is tremendously co-ordinated to keep the real world present and, maybe, rightfully threatening- the helicopter sounds redolent with spookiness and subtly, growing alarm.
The performance success is principally generated by Jeanette Cronin as Agnes, in an absolutely fearless and brave performance (in this small space) that takes one imaginatively by the scruff –of-the –neck into the reality of this woman’s tragic life. The agony, pain and history of the woman is revealed in explicit and unselfconscious choices. It is a bravura piece of work by an artist, who palpably loves performing and gives her audience every part of herself to tell of this tragic life that literally ends in immolation. The character combusts, and so does Ms Cronin in this gift to us. While Matthew Walker also gives a committed performance, it never quite goes to the same naked emotional place demanded by his partner, Ms Cronin- almost, but not quite, in the big climactic scene. Laurence Coy as Dr. Sweet, sitting ominously in the periphery of the playing space for some time, is sinister and ambiguous enough to cast questions as to ‘who is he really?’ etc. to give the play necessary tension. Catherine Terracini has an ease and blowsiness that allows this work to be the best I have seen from her, and Jonny Pasvolsky as the physically abusive but loving husband Jerry Goss, also plays havoc skilfully with our revulsion or sympathy, turn by turn in the play.
Mr Skuse once again delivers are thoroughly convincing production (Jose Rivera’s REFERENCES TO SALVADOR DALI MAKE ME HOT). The decision to use the dialect of the world of the play (Dialects by Carmen Lysiak) further convinces me of the world and supports further my continuous argument that authenticity to the sounds and rhythm of the written culture is an important aid to audience belief and entrance to the play’s life and truths.
(The issue of the consequence of drug use and abuse is a major component of the play and the fact that the Production Sponsor, NSW HEALTH supports this Art form is a welcome collaboration for both fields of our community. Thanks.)
Mr Letts has already being shown in Sydney, KILLER JOE, in Downstairs Belvoir a year or so ago and the power of the imaginative construction of his worlds and the examination of the humanity of his people can only build the appetite for the visit of the Steppenwolf Company with their production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY in August/September at the Sydney Theatre Company.
One of the strongest casts I have seen on a Sydney stage in a long time, and well worth the visit. As Harry Kippax would have said, 'Recommended'. Ms Cronin is, as you say, in wonderful form; and Mr Walker in this moves onto another plane: far and away the best work I have seen from him. Despite the fact that the play provides excellent opportunities for the actors, which they seize surely and often excitingly, I have strong reservations about it, and also about the production; rather, the direction of the production. I have not read the script, but it seems to me to be a commercial piece that might have served as an episode of 'X Files', and in its craft - structure, characterization, ear for language and the poetry of the demotic - not the worse for that. But, in descending into TV melodrama towards the end (murder, madness) the author seems not know how to end his play. In tricking up a naturalistic play with an essentially non-naturalistic production, Mr Skuse tries to make more of less, and in doing so drew attention - for me - to the play's claim to be more than it is: not much more than superior entertainment. Mr Letts, as evidenced by the superb MTC production production of 'Osage' and its stunning cast (led by Robyn Nevin and Jane Menelaus, both superb), was finding his feet in 'Bug'. I'm glad he persevered.
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