Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

I've got you under my skin

May 12, 2007

Andrew Elvis Miller as Peter and Amy Landecker as Agnes
Photo: David Elzer/LAT 2007
The Los Angels Theatre Company recently opened the local premiere of Tracy Letts’ Bug at The Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood. This premiere has been a long time in coming out west given the 2004 off-Broadway hit will arrive in a sexed up film version directed by William Friedkin with (get this) Ashley Judd and Harry Connick, Jr. in a matter of weeks. So now is an excellent time to take a look at this play in the light before Judd and Co. sink their B-grade summer flick fangs into its flesh. Letts’ himself has a hand in the adaptation, so it is hopeful that this will not turn into the simple horror genre picture it is being marketed as. Such a transformation would be a real shame given that this is one play well worth seeing.

I hate synopses, but here it goes: Agnes, an addict who lives in a motel room, lives in fear of the return of her abusive ex-husband from prison. She is introduced to Peter, a fellow addict, who she falls for just before his preoccupation with a debatable bug infestation in her room becomes apparent. As he slowly becomes more and more unhinged over the paranoiac conspiracy theory behind the infestation, Agnes elects to join in on the supposed delusion. From this point in, the play heads into the “where does delusion end and scary reality begin” territory which makes sense since there is plenty to go around these days for these characters including Agnes whose own 6 year-old son mysteriously disappeared a decade previously. On the surface this sounds like so much standard psychological thriller fare with a dash of folie a deux thrown in for a twist. But there is so much more here to be seen including biting commentary on motherhood, drug use, and even terrorism.

The evening greatly benefits from director Scott Cummins who is a local master of slow-building creep and paranoia as previously proved in the Odyssey Theaters’ 2006 production of Mr. Kolpert one of my favorite theater events of last year. In Bug he again pulls frankly great performances from the entire cast and keeps the whole thing from sinking into kitsch or parody. It’s no small feet maintaining humor when dealing with characters so easily over played such as the down-and-out residents of this particular stretch of rural Oklahoma. I must also mention the five actors in the cast given how great they all were here – Any Landecker (as Agnes), Andrew Elvis Miller (as Peter), Andrew Hawkes (as Jerry), Laura Niemi (as RC), and Rob Nagle (as Dr. Sweet). Landecker and Miller are particularly fine in getting the audience to sympathize and identify with them despite increasingly higher levels of insanity. Anyway, hurry out to West Hollywood and get a chance to see this stage work before the idea of the soon-to-be-discount DVD in the remainder bin makes you think otherwise.


And for those of us who grew up listening to Chicago's WLS radio, a quick check of imdb confirms Amy Landecker is the daughter of DJ John "Records" Landecker.
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