Brighton Fringe 2012
A harrowing and intense look at life’s victims tossed about by circumstance and conspiracies, set in a small motel apartment in Oklahoma. The dark side of needy love and paranoid delusions are explored in this visceral drama.
Tracey Lett’s 1996 play has been revived in this new version by Revera Productions, who performed last year’s Get Carter.
We open in a contemporary shabby motel apartment somewhere in Okalahoma. Chris Isaaks’ Wicked Game drifits out of the stereo, setting an dark and troubled tone. The two leads, Agnes (Melody Roche) and Peter (Charlie Allen) are strong—captivating the audience with their performances. Introduced by a mutual friend, RC (Mandy Jackson), the two protagonists engage in a tentative relationship. These are two fragile people afraid to be hurt again. Trust is a central theme with both wanting to believe the other, but fearing they were both being lied to. The fear eventually turning into paranoia.
When Agnes’ violent ex-husband, Jerry (Nick Bartlett), appears, he threatens to upset this delicate, blossoming relationship. But that’s not the only dark secret that haunts the couple. Peter’s military past as a victim of governmental experiments begins envelop their tiny microcosm of the apartment as they discover biting “aphids”—the “bug” of the title. Soon, Peter has manipulated Agnes into his contagious, distorted worldview and their mutual descent into madness is as believable as it is depressing.
The play had an air of Winter’s Bone about it, examining the downtrodden poor of America’s Mid-West, trapped in an existence of continually avoiding their grim reality through the use of drink and drugs. It’s this exploration of damaged people, their need to be needed and, ultimately, the power of suggestion on them, that makes this play’s writing shine. Lett’s draws the audience in, just as Peter draws Agnes in, and we have no idea where it will end, until it’s too late. Make no mistake, this is not a play for the fainthearted and there is gore galore, but never gratuitously. There were plenty of winces from the audience at several visceral moments.
The only slight nitpicks were much of the cast’s noble attempts at maintaining the script’s Okalahoma accents, which tended to drift a lot, causing a distraction; Jerry’s less-than-menacing demeanour; and a few sound effects and music that need volume adjustments. But these are minor quibbles for a play that greatly improved as it progressed. This is a production that pulls no punches and has the potential to go the distance.