Creepy Crawlers

3 HatchetsEver get a creepy-crawly feeling? Bug, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s latest play about a man, a woman, a crack pipe and millions of insects, will make you cringe – at the bugs and the play’s plot.

Bug, written by Tracy Letts, portrays Anges White (Deborah Hazlett) as a 40-something, divorced chain-smoking woman with a vocabulary just this side of a truck stop. She’s hiding out from her ex-con ex-husband in an Oklahoma City motel. She soon shacks up with a weird, quiet fellow Peter Evans (Eric Sutton), and then things start to get creepy – literally. After their first romp and smoking a lot of crack, Peter starts seeing and feeling bugs everywhere.

Wilson Milam’s direction of the play lets the audience decide whether these characters are really experiencing an insect infestation or if the bugs are a manifestation of their paranoia. You can believe the play until the end of the first act, but during the second act the play concentrates too much on science fiction when it should have explored Agnes’ and Peter’s emotional decline. You know these characters are going downhill – and so is the play.

But not everything about Bug is as ill-fated as its ending. The set design of a cheap motel room is perfect. There’s a mini-fridge in the closet, a tacky, over-starched bedspread, bras hanging in the bathroom and even a laundry basket with dirty clothes. When the play deteriorates to its paranoid second act, the stage transforms into an insect command center. It’s complete with aluminum on the walls and about 50 bug traps on the floors, which are illuminated by the blue glow of a bug lamp.

Though the play’s plot at times becomes almost comical, its actors give strong performances. Kate Norris, who plays Agnes’ quirky friend R.C., gives the best performance in the play. In her debut performance at the Woolly Mammoth, Norris provides clever comic relief, playing the only sane character in the story. Brian Hemmingsen’s performance is also commendable as he portrays the strange doctor who tries to help Peter with his psychosis. Hemmingsen is quiet and understated as Dr. Sweet, but he steals the scene as he takes a hit off the crack pipe. Hazlett’s performance as Agnes is the weakest – a chain-smoking and foul-mouthed woman doesn’t seem to work for her.

Evans has the most difficult part in the play. As the character Peter, he must convince Agnes that he has escaped from a military hospital where doctors have implanted bug pods in his teeth. He may have convinced Agnes, who is emotionally vulnerable already, but he hardly convinces the audience.

Bug would work if the details in the script weren’t so over-the-top. When Peter compares himself to the Oklahoma City bombing and the Unabomer, it seems stale and unbelievable. Anges’ emotional journey is the most interesting aspect of the play, but unfortunately, it is muddled by the other wacky parts of the show.

Bug continues at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre (1401 Church St., NW) through Sunday.

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