Thursday, March 15, 2012

BUG • Muddy Waters Theatre

The featured playwright of Muddy Waters Theatre this season is Tracy Letts.  Yay!  Buckle up, right?  Okay, let me just get this out of the way -- I remember the numerous walk-outs during the August: Osage County run at the Fox a few years ago -- another Letts play.  I effing loved it -- so visceral and funny.  Some didn't find it to their taste.  Aiight.  That's cool, I completely get that, but their loss, I think.  Buy the ticket, take the ride, I say!!  Anyway, like August: OC, Bug drops you in the middle of a realistically gritty look at the unsteady, paranoid lives of its characters, and while it offers laughs (perhaps uncomfortable, and at a safe distance), it also comes with moments that will, with Bug in particular, contagiously make you itch.

All of the action takes place in a mangy motel room just outside Oklahoma City.  Agnes (Kirsten Wylder) is a resident of said motel, trying to avoid her nasty ex-husband Jerry Goss (Jared Sanz-Agero), who has recently been released from prison.  To keep her harsh realities (past and present) at bay, her buddy, a plainspoken lesbian named R.C. (Jenn Bock), brings over some cocaine and an unassuming but intriguing guy called Peter Evans (Justin Ivan Brown).

Kirsten Wylder (Agnes White), Justin Ivan Brown (Peter Evans)
and Jenn Bock (R.C.).
Photo credit: John Lamb
In between tension-filled visits from Agnes' menacing ex who has discovered where she's staying, we, along with Agnes, learn more about this dude Peter as his quiet nature gives way to a more uninhibited comfort with his current company.  He presents as a thoughtful, intellectual, slightly odd type.  He's a Gulf War vet with strong theories about government sanctioned medical experiments and parasites.  Then we've got our Agnes, full of longing and solitude, without the will to believe in anything else, so they strike a responsive chord with each other.  As their cautious romance becomes less cautious, and their liquor swigging, conspiracy theory inflamed journey down the rabbit hole gets deeper, you're taken right with them as the lines between reality and delusion become blurred.  With commanding performances, sharp direction and perfect creative contributions, it's an absorbing trip.

Justin Ivan Brown (Peter Evans)
and Kirsten Wylder (Agnes White).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Kirsten Wylder does a remarkable job as a crushing, vulnerable Agnes, delivering a fearlessly committed performance from the opening moments to the last shreds.  Justin Ivan Brown's Peter Evans builds and reveals slowly and quite tantalizingly, and once he becomes unhinged, you find yourself not able to resist.  Jared Sanz-Agero as the intimidating ex-con Jerry Goss, does a wonderful job repelling you with an equally brave performance, and Jenn Bock gives us a successful R.C.  There's also Andrew Kuhlman as Dr. Sweet -- a less fully realized, and mysterious second act character who is "concerned" for Peter's well-being.

Mark Wilson's seedy and disheveled set, combined with Ellen Minch's costumes, David Hahn's low, beautiful lighting, and Milton Zoth's subtle sound design, everything from a smoke detector beep to ominous helicopters, are in unison with the mood that perfectly frames Cameron Ulrich's direction.

Because of the nature and content of this show, no one under the age of 18 will be admitted.  Yes, people get naked.  But if you're up for that, with some violence and a little carnage thrown in, and you don't mind some very well executed "in your face" theatre, this one is not to be missed.  For real.  Go see it.

Jared Sanz-Agero (Jerry Goss), Kirsten Wylder (Agnes White)
and Justin Ivan Brown (Peter Evans).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Written by Tracy Letts
Directed by Cameron Ulrich
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through March 25 | tickets: $25
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Kirsten Wylder (Agnes White), Jenn Bock (R.C.), Justin Ivan Brown (Peter Evans), Jared Sanz-Agero (Jerry Goss) and Andrew Kuhlman (Dr. Sweet).

Scenic design by Mark Wilson; costume design by Ellen Minch; lighting design by David Hahn; sound design by Milton Zoth; stage manager, Eleanore Rank.

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