A sunset lingers outside an open front door. We take several breathes with Agnes as she stands in the doorway, in silent longing of what lies just beyond her hotel room. As she turns her attention to milling about this small and tattered 90s reminiscent room, letting the Oklahoma air inside, we learn this isn’t just a hotel room, but her home. This oft liminal space turned permanent sets the tone for the macabre transformation Agnes is soon to undertake.
This lurid story finds Agnes White (Carrie Coon) soon after her abusive ex-husband is released from jail and begins stalking her. Through a mutual friend, Agnes is introduced to a kind drifter with a lofty vocabulary, Peter Evans (Namir Smallwood). Since Peter is in a place of transition between homes, and Agnes is looking for protection from her ex-husband, they agree to cohabitate in the hotel room. Their shared lack of (and pining for) companionship quickly blossoms into a relationship. All-consuming, their togetherness isolates them from the rest of the world. Suddenly, bugs slither into their lives and prove to be detrimental. What first appears to be an innocent case of bed bugs turns into a covert government conspiracy. Peter has a bug that he’s been bugged; they grow infested with bugs; this, indeed, bugs them.
“I’d rather talk to you about bugs than talk to nobody about nothing.”
A play crawling with conspiracy, loneliness, and psychosis, director David Cromer’s take on Tracy Letts’s Bug, in this writer’s view, is surprisingly human and heartening. The script is teeming with the themes of trust and fear which is echoed not only in the characters' relationships to one another, but also in our relationship to the characters on stage. Even as the characters are spiraling, their likability tempts us to lean into their madness, too. Carrie Coon and Namir Smallwood’s chemistry on stage is palpable (Intimacy Choreographer: Tonia Sina); we root for them despite their parasitic symbiosis.
Steppenwolf Theatre Stagecraft Excels
The set (Scenic Design: Takeshi Kata) is realistic in every detail, down to the last drop of the running water from the hotel sink. The plastic on the walls framing the set is also a clever touch, in this writer’s view, foreshadowing the sterile metamorphosis the stage—and the characters— undergo in the final scenes of the play. In addition, even in Steppenwolf’s expansive ~200-seat downstairs theater, the show feels intensely intimate,thanks to the adroit downsizing and jutting out of the stage.
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.
Note: This play contains full male and female nudity.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
Randall Arney (Dr. Sweet), Carrie Coon (Agnes White) and Namir Smallwood (Peter Evans), Jennifer Engstrom (R.C.) and Steve Key (Jerry Goss).
Author Tracy Letts
Director David Cromer
Scenic Designer Takeshi Kata
Costume Designer Sarah Laux
Lighting Desinger Heather Gilbert
Sound Design Josh Schmidt
Fight Choreographer Matt Hawkins
Intimacy Choreographer Tonia Sina
Dramaturg Sydney Charles
Company Voice, Text & Dialect Coach Gigi Buffington
Artistic Producer Hallie Gordon
Director of Production Tom Pearl
Casting Director JC Clementz
Production Stage Manager Christine D. Freeburg
Assistant Stage Manager Jaclynn Joslin
Through March 15, 2020
1650 N. Halsted St.
About the Author:
Lauren Lynch is a Chicago-based theatremaker by night and education administrator by day. She has undergraduate degrees in Theatre and English from Austin Peay State University and an MFA in Arts Administration from Texas Tech University. When she's not at work or seeing/creating theatre, you can find her enthusiastically playing board games with friends or stealing cuddles from her dog, Harry Pupper.