Friday, June 13, 2008

Bug - Review

I went to see Bug by Tracy Letts at the SF Playhouse last night. It was recently made into a movie, which I have not seen but am told is quite different. (I just tried to find a trailer for it online to watch, but none of them worked.)

The play closes this Saturday, and the houses are mostly full, so it doesn’t do anyone much good for me to review it now, but… I enjoyed it a lot. Don’t let the following criticism fool you.

One of these days I’ll remember to bring a program home with me so I can include actors full names, but the show really hinges on the performance of the actor playing Peter. Gabe did not disappoint. Really all the performances were strong. Susi took a little time getting warmed up as Agnes, but she got there. (Except she didn’t really react at all to her character having gasoline poured over her head. I’m sorry, you’d gag or cough or something. Gabe reacted.)

The set was beautiful. I wished it hadn’t shook so violently when doors were slammed though. (If you’re going for kitchen sink drama, you’ve got to go all the way with it, IMHO.)

The blood effects were gruesome and believable. (Except the first punch, or was it a slap? I don’t know.) You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a character pull out their own tooth onstage with a pair of pliers. Ok, maybe you have.

They cut the nudity from the play, which is fine, I guess, but I think it detracted from the overall desperation and vulnerability of the characters. Nudity is powerful. Live nudity in a drama is especially powerful. Isn’t the Playhouse about the “Power of Live Theatre”?

If I had to sum up the show in one word, it would be “satisfying”. It’s chewing-gum catharsis (as opposed to chewing-gum comedy). By “chewing-gum”, I mean you enjoy it while you chew it, but afterwards you don’t have much to show for it. I had trouble accessing any larger meaning to the play. (The government conspiracy theory layer to the plot is so overdone I couldn’t go there.) Oh, I’m sure other people found a larger meaning, but to me it was just about these people’s lives. That’s all I wanted it to be about. The play took my own little doubts and fears, exaggerated them, and played them out. I guess maybe that’s the point of good catharsis.

It did leave me wondering if there needed to be a larger meaning. Part of me says “yes”. I can get chewing-gum entertainment at home. If I’m going to make the effort to go to a show, I need to see something bigger, something I can’t get from TV. I suppose in this case the something bigger was just the added intensity of seeing these things play out live in sort of a Grand Guignol sort of way.

(I wish this were the Playhouse's poster for the show, by the way, but it’s not. Neither their poster nor their photos capture in anyway the intensity or the spirit of the play.)

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In 1789, the governor of Australia granted land and some animals to James Ruse in an experiment to see how long it would take him to support himself. Within 15 months he had become self sufficient. The area is still known as Experiment Farm. This is my Experiment Farm to see how long it will take me to support myself by writing.