Review: ‘Bug’ showcases McGahan, Addison
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.org
Agnes White is a woman way down on her luck. She lives in a shabby motel room where she snorts cocaine, drinks straight vodka from a coffee cup, and lives in fear of her ex-husband, Jerry Goss, who is fresh out of prison and harassing her with crank phone calls. Agnes is introduced to Peter Evans, a shy, soft-spoken, clean-cut man with a large vocabulary. On the spur of the moment she tells Peter he can stay for the night if he agrees to sleep on the floor.
Presented by the UH-Manoa Lab Theatre
» Where: Earle Ernst Lab Theatre
Peter stays. They end up sharing the bed. In the aftermath of their first sexual encounter Peter makes a confession: He is an escapee from a top secret government research program where soldiers unwittingly serve as human guinea pigs. Government scientists have put bugs in his blood.
Or maybe the bugs are under his skin.
Or maybe they’re hatching under the filing in one of his teeth.
Welcome to the UH-Manoa Lab Theatre Prime Time production of Tracy Letts’ multi-layered psycho-thriller, “Bug.” Honolulu got a taste of Letts’ work several months ago with Manoa Valley Theatre’s presentation of “August: Osage County.” The shocker in that show was that a malevolent woman had apparently taken revenge on her husband by calling his bluff when he threatened to commit suicide — deliberately triggering his self-caused death.
“Bug” has several shockers in it. It is a harsher story overall, more demanding of its audience, and uncomfortably realistic. As directed by Brett T. Botbyl in partial fulfillment of his Master of Fine Arts degree, it is a thought-provoking showcase for the talents of its stars, Lindsay Timmington McGahan (Agnes) and Lavour Addison (Peter).
Since this is Hawaii rather than Germany or Sweden, McGahan and Addison deserve mega-respect for having the self-confidence and integrity to do the lengthy full-frontal nude scene that is an integral part of the story — and for doing it in a small theater and in sufficient light for the full nudity to be fully visible. Yes, it would be intellectually dishonest for Botbyl, McGahan and Addison to bowlderize the story by omitting the nudity — one might as well bowlderize “Hair” by cutting that show’s iconic albeit far shorter nude scene — but they could have.
Instead, as with the Lab Theatre production of “Etta Jenks” two years ago, where Brook Costello and Noriko Katayama performed fully nude and brightly lit, the nudity brings realism and honesty to a story where little else we see is as it seems to be.
But “Bug” is much more than a vehicle for nudity. Letts examines the human desire to survive bad times, and explores the accommodations people make in the search for love. How many millions of people have changed religions or rearranged their lives in other ways to accommodate a lover? How many millions of people are able to make any new piece of information fit into their existing view of the world?
McGahan, also an MFA candidate, deserves an A+ for her performance on opening night. Her expressive eyes and animated features provided glimpses of Agnes’ vulnerabilities early on, and each revelation became the foundation of the next one. It’s a career-best performance for McGahan at Manoa.
Addison worked with exquisite precision in the early moments, slowly and steadily giving the audience reason to suspect that something was not quite right about the fugitive.
The intensity of the two actors’ work together increased with every scene.
Walter S. Gaines (Jerry Goss) does a remarkable job as the violent ex-husband who barges in expecting to pick up his abusive relationship with Agnes where it left off when he want to prison. Jerry is so crude he doesn’t bother to close the bathroom door when nature calls even though people of both sexes are in the adjoining room. And, yes, Agnes’ fears prove well-founded. Pardon the spoiler, but the guy turns out to be a bit more than a run-of-the-mill wife-beater. Gaines taps into the subtler facets of the character as the story goes on.
Van Fujishige (Dr. Sweet) has a single but very important scene as the mental health professional who comes to visit the couple. Is he who he says he is? Can he be trusted?
Angela J.P. Gosalves (R.C.) completes the core cast as a lesbian with whom Agnes has an apparently platonic relationship.
Standing ovations are rare in the Lab Theatre even on opening night. “Bug” got a standing ovation on Wednesday.
Botbyl presents the story on a meticulously detailed set that captures the “cheap motel” ambiance to perfection while also displaying the detritus of Agnes’ life. Brittany Paller (Scenic Designer) isn’t getting MFA credit for the design but certainly deserves it.
Be warned, the audience sits on two sides of the set. The nudity is probably visible from every seat in the house, but some excellent acting by McGahan and Addison is directed toward the smaller section of seating and won’t be seen by many in the main section.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for nearly 40 years. Contact him via email at email@example.com.