Stage & Dance

Balagula director perceives 'Bug' differently than filmmakers did

Rachel Rogers plays Agnes and Zachary Dearing is Peter in Balagula Theatre's production of Bug, which opens Sunday.
Rachel Rogers plays Agnes and Zachary Dearing is Peter in Balagula Theatre's production of Bug, which opens Sunday.

If you look up Ryan Case on Wikipedia, you'll read that he grew up in Iowa, was born in 1990, played football and that his father was a musician in a big brass band. None of this is true.

Puzzlingly, the entry gets some things right. A list of his early acting credits and his current job as co-artistic director of Balagula Theatre are a few of the truths scattered in the wildly inaccurate article. A Facebook page with similar disinformation has 13 likes.

Case has no idea who wrote such a false record of his life and jokes about conspiracy theories and the power of perception to shape reality. That's an idea that fits into Balagula Theatre's 2012-13 season opener, Bug, which premieres Sunday at Natasha's Bistro & Bar.

"Someone can read that Wikipedia page and build their perception of me based on that," says Case, who is directing the 1996 play by Tracy Lett.

The award-winning play is a psychological thriller examining how one's sense of reality can be altered dramatically in extreme circumstances.

The show focuses on an abused and broken-hearted woman, Agnes, who falls in love with Peter, an AWOL soldier who thinks he has been the subject of a government experiment. (The role of Peter was originated and played in several productions by Michael Shannon, who grew up in Lexington.) As bugs infest the motel room where they're holed up and more and more strange things happen, curiosities that could be dismissed as coincidence, Agnes is drawn into Peter's conspiracy-rich world.

Letts' graphic, open-ended script lets the audience decide what the truth is.

"It's a question about perception and perceiving reality and how your reality can be shifted no matter how grounded you feel you are," Case says of the show. "Reality can be shifted in a different direction, depending on your personal state of mind, state of heart, vulnerability at the time, what you need and what that reality provides you."

The show aspires to take the audience on the same psychological journey as the characters, so that by the play's end, Peter's version of reality just might be plausible.

Case is clear about what the play is not: "This is not a play about mental illness, and it is not a creature feature," he says.

He doesn't frame the play as the tale of a crazy person getting crazier. The bugs that infest the couple's motel room become part of Peter's conspiracy, but the show is not about creepy crawlies in your bed.

The 2006 film of the same title promoted Bug, which starred Shannon and another Kentuckian, Ashley Judd, as a horror film rather than a psychological thriller. Case says that's an ironic misrepresentation of the material, which he does not want to repeat.

"It was a complicated process in order to make it real, to bring in the reality of their world and their perception," Case says of directing Rachel Rogers as Agnes and Zachary Dearing as Peter.

"It has to be honest. That's the main thing," Case adds. "No matter what situation it is, it has to be a completely honest performance by everyone. So it was a huge challenge for them. It was a tall order."

Rogers and Dearing say they embrace Case's insistence that their acting style be pure, moment to moment, almost filmic.

"It's why I came out to work and to work for Ryan," says Rogers, who is returning to Lexington theater after a hiatus. "He's able to guide us to that kind of acting. We're so committed to working on the relationships that these people have and really exploring what they need. That makes their extreme actions plausible."

Dearing says, "It's less about being on a stage and it's more about this moment in a small motel room between two people."

He adds that he still hasn't decided whether his character's conspiracy theories are true, but "I'm leaning toward yes."

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