Review: Bug (StudioBLR & Kid Switchblade)

bug 7Bug is a “gritty, atmospheric production” now playing in Toronto

The StudioBLR & Kid Switchblade production of Tracy Letts’ Bug is an intense, trippy experience. My love of this play is fierce, though this was my first live experience of it. (I’ve seen William Friedkin’s film more than a dozen times). When I took my seat at the back of the Super Wonder Gallery and saw that trashy motel room set, out came the goosebumps! And those goosebumps stayed with me the whole time. 

The layout of the space is so perfect in its strangeness. You walk to the very back of this huge, empty gallery and around a darkened corner where you find yourself trapped in this musty, cramped room. This is a perfect lead-in to a story that explores a state of mind far removed from the sane and functioning world we’ve come to trust.

Agnes, a waitress at a local bar, has isolated herself in this seedy motel room and interacts with nobody except her friend R.C., a fellow waitress. Ten years prior, her young son went missing. She’s never recovered from the pain of that loss, or her deep fear of her abusive ex-husband (and ex-con), Goss. One night, lonely and desperate, she meets a quiet, off-beat drifter named Peter. He brings his own baggage into her small world and sets in motion a thrilling and terrifying set of events.

Peter spots the first “bug” and from that moment on, he fills Agnes’ head with ideas of insects crawling about her apartment and, eventually, taking up residence in her very flesh.

Peter is watchful, introspective, but shy and paranoid. His wild conspiracy theories are seasoned with some genuine insight into the nature of relationships, so you can’t help but be charmed by his soft-spoken rants. Later, when we discover how unhinged he is, those rants lose their charm.

I wasn’t entirely on board with Todd Preston’s portrayal of Peter. His initial awkwardness works well enough, but his persona was a little too indefinite, his body language lacking the steady, quiet force necessary for his delusions to feel as dangerous as they are.

I had similar feelings about Jaclyn Nobrega as R.C. When we first meet her, she’s high on cocaine and it makes sense that she’d be spacey. However, when she’s trying to be the voice of reason and drive a sensible wedge between Agnes and Peter—whom she now considers a potentially dangerous nutcase—her presence isn’t fierce enough to make me believe she could actually intimidate Peter.

Lynne Rafter is a jittery, lovable mess as Agnes. Even before the “bugs” show up, there’s something in the air, something in her own skin she’s itching to escape. Twitchy glances let us know just how fearful and desperate she is, but there is a ferocity in her devotion to Peter that is as disturbing as it is touching.

Luke Gallo as Goss is rugged and compelling. As my guest pointed out, he has that violent unpredictability that is the terrifying hallmark of an abusive personality. We catch glimpses, though, of the charisma that once attracted Agnes. I must admit I found him viscerally attractive despite the fact that he is, for the most part, an unpleasant person.

For me, this play poses a very specific and personal question: is it better to share someone else’s delusion than be alone? At one point, Agnes muses, “seems all we ever talk about is bugs, but I’d rather talk about bugs with you than nothing with nobody.” Yeah, I get that.

Director Jamieson Child has crafted a gritty, atmospheric production that keeps the brutal and bloody insanity of the action grounded in messy details. Stale wine stains on a tank top, the rattle of an old air conditioner and the tangled mess of bed sheets early in the morning: these feel sticky and intimate.

A warning for those with weak stomachs: there are some gruesome bits that are realistic, but handled artfully.

As an ardent fan of this play, I can tell you: this production gets all of the really important stuff right. I loved it.


  • Bug plays until May 27, 2016 at the Super Wonder Gallery (876 Bloor Street West)
  • Please check online for specific showtimes
  • Tickets are $20, available at the Super Wonder Gallery one hour prior to showtime (cash only) or by phone/text at 416-364-4556

Photo of Todd Preston and Lynne Rafter provided by the company