The Blue Barn calls the play Bug “a psycho thriller,” and others have called it “every bit as sleazy and violent’ as Killer Joe, another drama by Tracy Letts.

            One source warned against “violence, nudity and cigarette smoke,” while another simply said, “Don’t bring anyone who likes clean escape entertainment” to this “blood-drenched thriller.” And 24 hours before it was to open off-Broadway, Amanda Plummer abandoned the lead role over “artistic differences.”

            Which makes it likely that director Susan Clement-Toberer and her Blue Barn cast will turn it into a powerful experience lifted well above such sordid stuff. She wanted “to do this show since I saw it off Broadway,” the director says, “but the right blend of cast was not around.”

            Now she has her college classmate, Kim Gambino, in that lead role of Agnes, “the lonely waitress with a tragic past,” and Brian Zealand in his Barn debut as Peter the paranoid drifter. Kevin Barratt plays her nasty ex-hubby, with Erika Zadina as R.C., her lesbian biker buddy, and Nick Zadina as Dr. Sweet.

            Letts’ controversial story fits the Barn’s goal of being “highly challenged, a little afraid to approach the script,” which Susan describes as “very well-written,” its intensity balanced by levity.

            Gambino agrees. The Equity actor shared four years of shows with the director when they were classmates at the State University of New York in Purchase. She also shared my notion that any synopsis makes the story sound formidable, maybe even a real downer. “I was thinking of that, too…a crackhead waitress on a crack binge for days and pretty much losing her mind.”

            But it can be saved by superb writing and performance.

            Both Susan and Kim reject one critic’s claim that the play’s nudity is “in your face.” To the director, “It’s not anything distasteful; both times are well-warranted to propel the story.”

            “It’s certainly not a sex scene,” the actress adds, “when Agnes and Peter jump out of bed looking for the bugs that are biting them.” She’s also not new to performing nude after touring Europe with Hair for eight months.

            But the role remains a stretch for her “to say the least.” For starters, “I don’t smoke crack; I have one glass of wine and I’m done.”

            Agnes and Peter battle the bugs by hanging strips of flypaper, prompting her ex-convict former husband to quip, “Y’know, if I was a roach, I believe I’d take the hint.”

            Bug runs Sept. 29-Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m. Sundays in the Old Market.

                                                                        —Warren Francke

Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to coldcream@thereader.com.  


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