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Shadow Horse Theatre gives us the creeps in Bug

Aaron Henry and Katherine Preble.

Aaron Henry and Katherine Preble.

Shadow Horse Theatre's Bug isn't going to be a walk in the park for audiences, but director Justin Kirkeberg promises it will be a wild ride.

"I'm a big fan," Kirkeberg says of the play by Tracy Letts. "Bug is one that has always been on my radar for a long time. I was really excited when Shadow Horse called me to take a crack at it. I love his language. He has the most absurd situations but the language is very real. It is very visceral."

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The play, which was made into a William Friedkin film in 2006, follows an on-the-edge pair holed up in a seedy Oklahoma motel room. Peter is a veteran of the Gulf War who thinks the government is out to get him. Agnes is hiding out from her abusive ex-husband. Their shared paranoia and delusions ramp up throughout the play, with the lingering question in the back of the viewer's mind of whether the events are actually happening or not.

"In some ways, this is a love story about two very broken people. They find someone they can connect with. It's a melding of neuroses," Kirkeberg says.

Kirkeberg admits that the script for Bug is one that could easily get away from you. "You can fall into the trap and make it more than it is," he says. "There is a chance you can go from absurd to grotesque. Some of the things that are happening are just upsetting to watch."

The director explains that a lot of the challenges of Bug fall onto the backs of the actors: "It's finding the line of not getting overwhelmed by the surrealist situations in the piece. It is easy to turn it cartoonish. They have to play the reality of the situation and the psychology of the characters."

Most of the action involves Katherine Preble as Agnes and Aaron Henry as Peter, but three other actors are featured in the play, too. The same rules apply them. "Most of the other characters have only or two scenes, but they have to give them enough to make them real characters," Kirkeberg says.

The set also plays a major role, since the stage at the Phoenix Theater is roughly the size of a hotel room. "It really gets into the mind of these characters to see what is true for them," Kirkeberg says of the set.

All of this will leave plenty for the audience to chew over. "I hope they take away empathy and sympathy for our veterans and for people who are living in tragic situations," says Kirkeberg. "Sometimes we just get trapped. Sometimes you start rolling down that hill and can't stop."

IF YOU GO

Bug June 12 through July 27 The Phoenix Theatre 2605 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis $12-$15 For tickets and more information, call 800-838-3006 or visit online.