Wednesday 28 September 2016

Bug satisfyingly scratches a comic itch, despite its age

Twenty years on, Bug is a little dated, but still great fun, writes Emer O'Kelly

Published 12/09/2016 | 02:30

Mary Murray and Rex Ryan in 'Bug' at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf
Mary Murray and Rex Ryan in 'Bug' at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf

Tracy Letts's now widely acclaimed play Bug, about American paranoid delusion and insanity on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, actually had its world premiere in London in 1996, before going on to garner awards on most continents and trickling down to populist audiences through the film version in 2006.

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And when I first saw the Purple Heart production of it, about 10 years ago at the New Theatre in Dublin, it was noticeable that film may always have been in the author's mind: it seemed more of a movie script than a stage play.

But perhaps that was a directorial choice, because in the Corps Ensemble production currently at the Viking in Clontarf in Dublin, it remains firmly theatrical and is all the better for it, although it is increasingly dated in its Gulf War and Oklahoma City bombing reference points.

Agnes is sane, but lonely; the former state is rather precarious. She lives in a seedy motel room, on the run from her ex-husband and with good reason. He is violent and has tried to kill her in one of his brief periods out of jail.

Her best friend is RC, a lesbian biker with a not-too-profitable line in prostitution. Enter Peter, an RC pick-up, who takes up with Agnes.

The play proceeds from an innocent-seeming, horrified encounter with a bug in a blanket, through an apparent infestation of the little buggers. Oh, yeah?

And the scene is set for a wild descent into mayhem, violence and delusion which ends explosively (literally) as Agnes loses her grip on reality and Peter, it becomes clear, never had a grip on anything, save his own terrifying fantasies.

Agnes is a part written in theatre heaven for a strong actor and Mary Murray fits it to perfection in this production. She is well matched by Rex Ryan as Peter, who increasingly shows signs of deserving to make it into the mainstream, although he does have problems with accent.

The support too is excellent, particularly from Toni O'Rourke as RC, with Edwin Mullane as the husband and Michael Bates as the hapless psychiatrist.

Jed Murray's direction is well controlled but his fondness for playing the characters at floor level fails to take into account the theatre's lack of rake, which leaves much of the action invisible from the auditorium.

Joe Flavin's lighting design is patchy, to say the least; but Andy Murray's set makes extraordinarily good use of the limited space.

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Sunday Independent

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