Bug by Tracy Letts

nharkins's review

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hated the movie, was about to turn it off, until i realized it was a play.
after recalibrating my expectations, it was still kind of annoying to watch...
but that's kind of the point, and i found myself thinking about it afterwards,
as i am wont to do with plays. now i think it's great. kinda like how sugary
music you love at first listen, but wind up never listening to again, then
there's music that you didn't like at first listen, but grew to appreciate.

xterminal's review

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Tracy Letts, Bug (Dramatist's Play Service, 2005)

Before even considering Bug, flip to the back page if you picked up the Dramatist's Play Service version. (The only one extant, as far as I know, but that may change.) The list of new plays they have for sale says that 2005 was indeed an amazing year for Dramatist's Play Service; sitting one above the other are Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman, one of the best plays I've ever read, and John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, which of course everyone and their mother is now familiar with thanks to an Oscar-winning film adaptation in 2008. Pretty much anything else on that page is going to have a hard time standing up to those, right?

To put this in perspective, Bug was also adapted for film, back in 2006. It was made by one of Hollywood's most revered 1970s directors, William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist, and Cruising, among others, came from Friedkin), and starring three of Hollywood's hottest properties of the nineties: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, and Harry Connick, Jr. That's easily as much starpower as was put into the adaptation of Doubt, but Bug was released direct-to-video in America. I've been trying to find out why since I first saw the movie in 2008, and I still haven't come up with a satisfactory answer. There are countries where it was still running in theaters in 2009. That's three years on the big screen. Pretty obvious that the film adaptation of Bug was a raging success overseas. (For the record, it's a brilliant film, and it made my list of the hundred best of the last decade.)

And then there's the play. Friedkin and Letts, who also wrote the screen adaptation, were slavishly faithful; this is one of those rare cases where I can say “if you liked the movie, you'll like the book”, and vice-versa, with absolute conviction. It's sheer, unadulterated genius from beginning to end. It gets inside your head and sits there. It does to us what Peter does to Agnes, and it does it just shy of perfectly. (There are a few jumps that yank us back to reality; given how effective the play is when we're immersed in it, I'm guessing this was intentional on Letts' part.) There are all kinds of crazy in this play, and the all work.

Letts has, of course, gained a great deal more fame from his follow-up, August: Osage County, which is still touring the country. And that, too, is justified, as it's a fine, fine piece of drama in its own right, a sort of one-family rural Peyton Place gone horribly awry. But August: Osage County is a big, sprawling spectacle of thing that screams “look at me!” in its best Russ Meyer enunciation. Bug is small, intimate, and feels for all the world as if you're not supposed to be watching it. When you're done with this, you should feel like a voyeur. (Whether you're guilty or turned on is, of course, up to you.) It is also horrific, in the best sense of the word. You may find yourself scratching phantom itches. This is normal. **** ½