owen carey

Artists Repertory Theatre, 1516 SW Alder, 241-1278, Tues-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm & 7 pm, $15-40

Artists Repertory Theatre's (ART) newly revealed second-stage space is glossy and gorgeous, as expected. The stage is big, the possibilities are exciting; but nothing is more encouraging than the stunning production with which ART has inaugurated the stage. It's thrilling to see such a deep well of resources feeding into a script as provocative and difficult as Tracy Letts' Bug.

Bug takes place in a motel room outside of Oklahoma City, conveyed in Jeff Seats' remarkable set through minute details that include a nasty-looking blanket on the bed. The room is inhabited by Agnes (played by an endearingly haggard Valerie Stevens), a lonely woman who has never gotten over the loss of her child. When Agnes meets Peter (Jeffrey Jason Gilpin), an eerie young homeless man who shares her taste for alcohol and cocaine, she lets him sleep on her floor. Soon they're sleeping together, a pairing of both Biblical and Oedipal subtext. Act I of Bug is sordid, depressing, and basically feels like what you would imagine spending 45 minutes in a motel room in Oklahoma City would feel like.

In Act II, tension escalates. Peter has moved in, and the couple spends their days drinking, doing coke, and scouring the apartment for, well, bugs. Peter's behavior becomes erratic, and he tells Agnes he's escaped from a military hospital where the government was experimenting on him. Specifically, he believes that the government implanted him with contagious tracking devices in the form of genetically modified aphids. Agnes is drawn into his web of paranoia, and the two of them grow frantic in their attempts to find and destroy the bugs. Peter's hysteria mounts to a violent, brilliant climax, which explores the intersection of mental illness and legitimate mistrust of the government.

Bug is bloody, vulgar, and full of balls-out nudity. It's also genuinely challenging, but ART's ensemble gets it all right, from the note-perfect sound design to the hallucinatory mind-fuck of the play's final moments. Such a bold and well-orchestrated production bodes well for future productions on ART's new stage.