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Paranoia haunts Tracy Letts' drama 'Bug'

Oklahoma City Theatre Company and Ghostlight Theatre Club collaborate on “Bug”
BY JOHN BRANDENBURG Modified: March 19, 2013 at 4:45 pm •  Published: March 20, 2013

A production that initially seemed to be about a dysfunctional nuclear family of two, with a lost child, turned into an exercise in pure paranoia, that didn't have quite enough theatrical payoff to justify its extreme subject matter.

Appearing to delight some and alienate others, the Oklahoma City Theatre Company version of “Bug” is set in 1997 at a “no tell” motel on “the outskirts of Oklahoma City.” The script is by Tulsa-born author Tracy Letts, who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his later play, “August: Osage County,” a superb family drama.

Paula Dawson was surprisingly sympathetic and achingly vulnerable as Aggie, who rents the motel room near the bar where she works, and relies on drugs (smoking marijuana and snorting cocaine) to make her bleak life bearable.

Dawson seemed tough and self-contained at first, but soon let her abusive, out-on-parole ex-husband, played with just enough redneck menace by Tyler Waits, invade her space, and slug her, without warning, in the first act.

Appearing just in time to save her, apparently, was Jeff Burleson, who offered a nicely nuanced performance in the relatively restrained first act as Peter, a man of mystery who respects women, but they're the least of his worries.

Burleson shifted emotional gears and convincingly ratcheted up the pressure, little by little, from the time that he first discovers a bug lurking in their bed at the motel, during a romantic scene before intermission.

But it was only after the break that the behavior of Peter, an AWOL mental patient who has escaped from a military hospital after several years, became truly alarming, threatening to drown the play in a sea of paranoia.

Burleson did succeed in playing the role with a minimum of overkill, as he investigated the bugs he thinks are sucking his blood under a microscope and drew Aggie into his possibly paranoid, possibly true conspiracy theories.

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