Steppenwolf Theatre Company is Back in Person with “BUG”

Pictured (L to R) ensemble member Namir Smallwood (Peter Evans) and ensemble member Carrie Coon (Agnes White) in Steppenwolf’s production of Bug by ensemble member Tracy Letts, directed by David Cromer. The critically acclaimed production returns to the Downstairs Theater, 1650 N Halsted St., November 11 – December 12, 2021. Tickets are available at 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org. Photo by Michael Brosilow
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Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the nation’s premier ensemble theater company, is thrilled to welcome audiences back for in-person performances  for the first time in 20 months with its acclaimed and extraordinary revival of Bug by Pulitzer  Prize and Tony award-winning ensemble member Tracy Letts, in the Downstairs Theater.  

Directed by Tony award winner David Cromer with ensemble members Randall Arney, Carrie  Coon and Namir Smallwood alongside Jennifer Engstrom and Steve Key reprising their roles,  the production was shut down before the end of its run in March 2020 due to the pandemic, and the show’s return to stage is Steppenwolf’s bold refusal to let the disaster of COVID-19 win.

: Pictured (L to R) ensemble members Carrie Coon (Agnes White) and Namir Smallwood (Peter Evans) in Steppenwolf’s production of Bug by ensemble member Tracy Letts, directed by David Cromer. The critically acclaimed production returns to the Downstairs Theater, 1650 N Halsted St., November 11 – December 12, 2021. Tickets are available at 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Bug by ensemble member Tracy Letts returned to the stage, and runs through December 12, 2021. 

Briefly, “In a seedy Oklahoma motel room, a lonely waitress begins an unexpected love affair  with a young drifter. And then they see the first bugs…Tracy Letts’s mind-bending cult  classic is a luridly funny tale of love, paranoia and government conspiracy.”  

Anxious to return to live theater, Chicago Splash Magazine journalists, Debra Davy and Barbara Keer attended the performance on November 16th.  This was the second time that Debra had seen the play having reviewed its earlier incarnation. See the review

Pictured (L to R) ensemble member Carrie Coon (Agnes White) and Steve Key (Jerry Goss) in Steppenwolf’s production of Bug by ensemble member Tracy Letts, directed by David Cromer. The critically acclaimed production returns to the Downstairs Theater, 1650 N Halsted St., November 11 – December 12, 2021. Tickets are available at 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Following is a Q&A about the play between Debra Davy and Barbara Keer:

Debra, you saw the play in its first production before it was so rudely interrupted by Covid. Now that is has picked up where it left off, is there anything that stands out to you that is different from the first viewing?

 I think this incarnation of “Bug” is imbued with a tenderness that I didn’t sense as paramount in February 2020.

While the same crackerjack cast gathers on the same iconic stage in a cult-status script, so much has happened in-between that nobody could have foreseen. As a viewer, the biggest impact this time came from the relationship between the 2 protagonists.

All of the characters in the play were very involved in the use of drugs.  Do you have any  thoughts on the role of drugs in this play?

There is no question that the drugs created and exacerbated underlying fear, paranoia and the sensation of bugs crawling. Their casual and incessant use also helped create a sense of secrecy and instant shared intimacy. 

There is reference to a 6 year old child that was “lost”.  In what way did this impress you?

The lost child is the elephant in the motel room- the basis for marital breakup, abuse, and husband and wife institutional and self-imposed incarceration.

Ultimately, the female lead is sacrificed on the alter of her guilt, a madonna-martyr.

Pictured (L to R) Steve Key (Jerry Goss) and ensemble member Namir Smallwood (Peter Evans) in Steppenwolf’s production of Bug by ensemble member Tracy Letts, directed by David Cromer. The critically acclaimed production returns to the Downstairs Theater, 1650 N Halsted St., November 11 – December 12, 2021. Tickets are available at 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org. Photo by Michael Brosilow

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Barb, you were enthralled by the stagecraft in this production. Can you speak to your impressions of the lighting and sound effects?

I believe that the lighting, sound and staging set the tone for the action and the play would less powerful had these aspects not been handled so well.  They were essentially another character in the play.

What are your thoughts on the significance to the drama of the ancillary characters, the friend, the husband, and the psychiatrist?

The way in which these ancillary characters interacted with Agnes (Carrie Coons) and Peter (Namir Smallwood) provided the audience with a more complete picture of the main characters personalities.

Despite it’s intensity and social commentary, didn’t you think the piece was funny in it’s own important “Steppenwolfian” way?

There were certainly bits of humor along the way which, thankfully, broke the intensity.  This play is very much in keeping with the Steppenwolf approach to humor – it sneaks up when you least expect it.

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I found myself absorbed in the play for the better part of two hours and when I left my head was in a new place, searching for “what is reality?”

Pictured (L to R) ensemble member Carrie Coon (Agnes White) and ensemble member Namir Smallwood (Peter Evans) in Steppenwolf’s production of Bug by ensemble member Tracy Letts, directed by David Cromer. The critically acclaimed production returns to the Downstairs Theater, 1650 N Halsted St., November 11 – December 12, 2021. Tickets are available at 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Update: A stunning new 50,000 sq. ft. theater building and education center on Halsted Street. As the world came to a  pause in 2020, the walls of Steppenwolf’s state-of-the-art Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and  Education Center continued to rise, symbolizing hope for the entire Chicago arts community. Bug audiences will be the first to explore the new building and experience a brand-new  theatergoing experience.  Designed by world-renowned architect Gordon Gill of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture,  the expanded Steppenwolf campus features bright new lobbies and two new bars for socializing designed by fc STUDIO, inc. The transformed 1650 N. Halsted Street lobby space seamlessly  connects Steppenwolf’s existing building with the new Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Arts and Education  Center, while the second-floor lobby of the Downstairs Theater has been renovated to house a  stylish bar and gathering space. The new building’s downstairs lobby features an additional  craft beer-focused bar that connects to an outdoor patio area. These two new full-service bars  join Steppenwolf’s popular Front Bar (1700 N. Halsted Street), offering audiences, artists and  community welcoming new spaces for socializing in the Halsted Corridor of Lincoln Park.

Interior of The new Steppenwolf Theatre
Pictured (L to R) ensemble member Namir Smallwood (Peter Evans) and ensemble member Carrie Coon (Agnes White) in Steppenwolf’s production of Bug by ensemble member Tracy Letts, directed by David Cromer. The critically acclaimed production returns to the Downstairs Theater, 1650 N Halsted St., November 11 – December 12, 2021. Tickets are available at 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Single tickets start at $20 and are available at steppenwolf.org or 312-335-1650. Discounts  available including new Artists and Essential Workers discount, expanded 20-for-$20 program,  Pay-Your-Age performances, and more. Members who wish to see this award-winning  production again can add this show to their season package at an exclusive member price. Learn about the complete 2021/22 Comeback Season here.  Run time is 2 hours including a 15 minute intermission.

Steppenwolf is part of the growing coalition of more than 70 Chicagoland performing arts venues and producers that have agreed upon COVID-19 vaccination and mask requirements for all audiences, artists and staff through the end of 2021. Audience members must provide proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test certification upon entry in addition to wearing masks. Learn more about Steppenwolf’s guidelines

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