By Heather Fiore
What distinguishes illusion from reality? This is the striking question that boggles the audience’s minds during Tracy Letts’ eerie and atypical play, Bug.
Directed by Dr. Patrick Chmel, the recently retired director and professor of theater, this production strays far from the predictable.
“In Bug, Letts is not interested in providing all the answers,” Chmel said. “Bug is an early Letts, written during a time when he explored territory often more subliminal than identifiable. The horror very slowly creeps up on you.”
Set in an Oklahoma City motel room, Letts opens with an eccentric situation.
Struggling to hide from her physically abusive ex-husband, Agnes (senior Joanne Nosuchinsky), a divorced waitress, meets Peter (junior Justin Kelly), a timid Gulf War drifter, through her lesbian friend, R.C. (senior Brie Applegate). Though Agnes finds pleasure in cocaine and isolation, she hopes that Peter will somehow be her liberator and ultimately boost her low self-esteem and insecurities.
Although Agnes and Peter may not appear to have any commonalities, they both share inauspicious, horrific experiences. For years, Agnes regrettably endured physical abuse from her redneck husband, Jerry (senior Tommy Butler), and the insurmountable pain of losing her only child to a kidnapper. Peter now faces subjection to mental abuse because of his experiences as a military guinea pig for inconceivable medical experiments.
Peter sees bugs, but it’s unclear if it is a result of his extended torture by the military, or if he is a paranoid delusional. Throughout the play, Letts pulls the audience members to the edge of their seats and dares them to construct infinite possibilities.
Although Agnes and Peter are left with many internal and external problems to face, they find a connection between them. Unfortunately, Jerry finds her at the motel with Peter and assumes things between them will resume.
Butler, a theater major at Rider, found playing Jerry to be a “beautiful experience.”
“I’m a character actor, which essentially means I take on characters that are very different from who I am as a person,” Butler said. “It’s been great playing a character that is a struggle. He’s so far from what I know and what I’m used to.”
Aside from acting in one of Letts’ plays, Butler also directed a Letts play over the summer, Killer Joe. This allowed Butler to become accustomed to the way Letts plays with language and writes about sensitive subjects. Butler also credited Chmel on his directing.
“He really loves directing and he loves the theater, and it’s evident in his work,” Butler said. “He takes a whole lot of risks and chances, which in the theater is the best thing you can do.”
While Chmel may outdo himself when direction, it also helps that the whole cast are good friends.According to Butler, this makes it easy to feed off each other and accentuate each other in the performance.
Nosuchinsky, a theater major and senior acting scholar, finds it most important to relate and adapt to her character.
“The thing that I try to keep in mind is that there are really women like Agnes out there in the world who desperately need to find something to hold on to, something to live for,” she said. “We all have those moments of vulnerability and desperation. Keeping that in mind makes Agnes more human to me.”
She gives credit to Chmel for pushing her to be a better actor with every performance she’s worked on with him and commends his dedication to theater.
“He’s taken many chances on casting me in his shows, and for that I am very grateful,” Nosuchinsky said. “He pushes me past my limits and is the reason that I’m the actor that I am today.”
According to Chmel, Bug has been both a unique and exhilarating challenge for the actors,.
Butler agreed, adding his own overview of the production.
“This show will make you question, it will make you uncomfortable, it’ll make you laugh your butt off, and it’ll make you feel like the world that you know was just turned upside down,” Butler said. “The only writer I know that can do something like that is Tracy Letts.”