Nothing will stop Maurice Lord from his appointed rounds. Lord has taken it upon himself-out of a warped sense of civic duty and the desire to feed some remarkable talents-to hit the road, and the bookstore, and the grapevine, and the Internet so you don’t have to look for the strangest, most intense, and totally over the top new plays in the world. And when he finds them, he brings them back-alive! It can be very scary. That’s just one reason why it’s perfect that Bug, Lord’s latest discovery, will open at Center Stage Theater this Friday night, on Halloween. There’s no theater experience in Santa Barbara more likely to scare the audience out of their wits than Genesis West.
Bug author Tracy Letts makes for interesting copy in his own right. The Oklahoma native joined Chicago’s legendary Steppenwolf Theatre at age 20. His first play, Killer Joe, was written in 1991 while he was struggling with an alcohol problem, and his most recent show, August: Osage County, which won the 2008 Tony Award for best play and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama, included in its cast for opening night on Broadway Letts’s father, Dennis, in a major role. Dennis Letts, who has since died of cancer, was a successful television actor who began the career at age 50 after having worked for several decades as a college professor of English in Durant, Oklahoma. Tracy Letts himself is a veteran television actor as well as a playwright, and when he accepted his Tony Award for August: Osage County he said that writing plays and accepting awards for them was “easier and more fun than auditioning for JAG.”
Not to be outdone by her husband or her son, Letts’s mother, Billie, is the author of the number-one best-selling novel Where the Heart Is (1996). When asked to compare her writing with her son’s work, Letts’s mother said, “I try to be upbeat and funny. Everybody in Tracy’s stories gets naked or dead.” The word on Bug is that mother knows what she is talking about. Expect people to get both-naked and dead.
For Maurice Lord, this show is a chance to do something he’s been planning for more than a decade-work with Joe Jordan, one of Lord’s best friends at UCSB and now a distinguished Los Angeles theater director with dozens of shows and multiple awards to his credit. Jordan will play Peter, the conspiracy-minded Gulf War veteran who is the play’s wild card.
In addition to Jordan, Lord has cast David Brainerd in a small part, Laura Criswell as the lesbian sidekick “RC,” and the amazing Leslie Gangl Howe in the central role of Agnes. The play takes place in an Oklahoma City motel room, and, as Agnes, Howe will get to smoke some crack, sleep with a man, and : who knows what from there. After several successful outings, the team of Lord and Howe looks like a consistent winner. They certainly are fortunate to have found in each other collaborators capable of harnessing their formidable powers. The great set and lighting designer Ted Dolas will be contributing scary special effects.
Lest the above mislead anyone into thinking that Bug will be anything less than serious theater, consider again that this play is the work of the current Pulitzer and Tony winner, a writer who has been compared to Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill. The fact that we have actors and a director in Santa Barbara willing and capable of a thoroughly legitimate and professional production of a show this challenging and important is something to rejoice over. And if it’s a Halloween party, all the better. Bring on the naked and the dead.
Bug opens Friday, October 31, at Center Stage Theater and plays through November 15, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org.