Sundown Collaborative Theatre
Directed by Nolan Chapa
Stage Manager – Chloe McDowell
Assistant Stage Manager – Christina Bridges
Set Designer – James LupPlace
Props Designer – Olivia Dickerson
Makeup Designer – Lindsey Hall
Assistant Makeup Designer – Dara Prati
Lighting Designer – Ryan Davila
Sound Designer – Patrick Bohmier
Fight Director – Carlo J. Aceytuno
Costume Designer – Britnee Schoville
Producing Member – Julia Bodiford
Sound Board Operator – Eric Molina
Light Board Operator – Emma Smith
Agnes – Meg Hargis
Peter – Denson Jones
R. C. – Jordan Desmarais
Goss – Keelan Callaghan
Dr. Sweet – Robert Linder
Reviewed Performance: 11/3/2017
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
I have seen this happen in my own family. And I witnessed it occurring Friday night at Sundown Collaborative Theatre’s production of “Bug” by Tracey Letts. The play is a terrifying journey with a young man whose brokenness is explained by the fever dreams of his own fear. Accompanying Peter (played by Denson Jones), the young man, is Agnes (played with incredible bravery by Meg Hargis), a woman with a failed marriage to an abusive ex-convict husband and a mother whose child disappeared years before while she was shopping. Her present existence consists spending her life in her seedy hotel room with drugs and alcohol as her only defense against the loneliness that engulfs her.
The two are introduced by Agnes’ lesbian friend R. C. (played by Jordan Desmarais) after a night of partying. At first Peter comes across as shy and eccentric and Agnes responds with annoyance that slowly transforms into attraction. Peter spends the night on the floor next to Agnes’ bed. The next morning, Jerry Goss visits the room (played by Keelan Callaghan), Agnes’ abusive ex, and is interrupted by Peter’s return with food, Agnes and Peter end up in bed together. After that Peter begins to suffer bites from what starts as a few bugs and very quickly grows to a full infestation. And Agnes’ journey into Peter’s Hell begins.
Ms. Lett’s play starts out slowly enough, but when the bugs begin to appear the script goes into over-drive and, with great artistry, plays with the audience’s perception of what is occurring on stage. Are the things happening to the characters real or is it all in the mind of Peter with Agnes coming to believe all that the man she cares for tells her? Even when other characters such as R. C. and Goss, point out there is no infestation, is it because they are stating the reality of the situation or is it that they are part of the conspiracy against Peter? The appearance of a doctor (played by Robert Linder) in second act only complicates the matter. Is Dr. Sweet really who he says he is? Is he really concerned about Peter’s mental health or is he there to check if his experiment is working? The play messes with the audience’s perception of reality as much as Peter influences Agnes’. Ms. Lett has written a masterful script.
The set is simple. We see the cinder blocks of the theatre, a bed, a sink for the bathroom, a table for the coffee pot and bottles and some of the most artistically strewn trash I have seen (having seen trashed out rooms, this one has more playing space than the real thing). The set is just the playing ground for an extremely talented group of actors. Meg Hargis’ Agnes is a wonder. At the beginning, Agnes has her armor up and has drugs and alcohol to keep her at a distance from Peter. As she begins to care for him, the loneliness and loss bottled up inside comes pouring out and her need to hold on to anyone who cares causes her to blur the bounds of reality. It is a brave and honest performance. Ms. Hargis plays some of the show in only a bra and panties but there is no self-consciousness. There is only her total commitment to the character of Agnes. That commitment is painfully exhibited in a monologue in act two where Agnes reshapes her entire past to fit with Peter’s reality. It is a riveting moment; just one of many that Ms. Hargis delivers throughout the production.
Denson Jones’ Peter was oddly engaging in the beginning of the play. I could see why Agnes would be attracted to this strange man with his quirky mannerisms. As the play progresses, Mr. Jones inhabits Peter’s paranoia completely. Again, is anything that Peter says true or is it his mind’s twisted picture of reality? We watch Peter’s actions become more and more extreme as he battles the bugs and we know that any sense of reality for him and us has completely slipped away. Denson Jones gives his entire self to the performance, particularly when the bugs start biting. Like Ms. Hargis, Mr. Jones is totally committed to the character and gives us a man whose behavior is hard to watch but it is impossible to take our eyes off him.
The other actors get less time but are no less important. Jordan Desmarais gives a solid performance as R. C., providing a fleeting chance for Agnes to come back to the real world. Keelan Callaghan is properly menacing as the abusive ex-husband Jerry Goss. He carries himself like a person who enjoys tormenting those he perceives as weaker than him. Mr. Callaghan is sometimes hard to hear, succumbing to the temptation to sound dangerous by dropping his volume. But that does not detract from the character he has created. Robert Linder was a bit more problematic. I think he was supposed to be from a military hospital but the hair down his back and the way he held himself did not fit with that. But it did go along with the idea that he was not who he said he was and supported the conspiracy that was terrifying Peter. Mr. Linder played his role competently.
Director Nolan Chapa kept the pace brisk and coaxed courageous and unnerving performances from his two leads. Mr. Chapa made good use of a limited space (although I wish he had eliminated the mimed action for the bathroom door. It would have been less distracting to eliminate it altogether). And the lights and sound helped establish the moments when reality begins to fade away and conspiracy theories reign.
This is a very well-done production that deserves an audience. It is an unsettling play and will give you plenty to talk about afterward, but isn’t talking about a play one of the great things about having seen a play? So, take in one of the final shows this coming weekend. But watch your back after the show. Things may not be how you think they are after all.
Sundown Collaborative Theatre
Point Bank Black Box Theatre
318 E Hickory St.
Denton, TX 76201
November 3rd, 4th, 5th and 10th, 11th, 12th – 8:00PM
Tickets available at the door and are $12 general admission, $10 students/seniors.
To reserve tickets or pay in advance, go to sundowntheatre.org/tickets
or email firstname.lastname@example.org.