Last night, five of central Indiana’s very best actors and actresses convened at Spotlight Theatre in Beech Grove to present one of central Indiana’s best directors’ production of Bug by Tracy Letts. The result was at once: entertaining, spell-binding, mind-broiling, skin-tingling and disturbing.

On an uber-realistic set designed by director Lori Raffel (another of her astonishing talents) and “movie set” decorated by Gayle Walsh and Dan Beck, the dream team cast: Lisa Marie Smith (Agnes), Clay Mabbitt (Peter), Earl Campbell (Goss), Lina Ricks (R.C.) and Nan Macy (Dr. Sweet) – spun us a tale with six legs and a mean bite.

Bug examines the psychotic human mind and the many traps and pit-falls therein. It also studies the effects one such tilted mind can have on the world around it and how our own vulnerabilities can lead us down some very dark paths into oblivion. Set in the seediest of motel rooms in Oklahoma City, we start by meeting Agnes, a down and out waitress/(stripper?) who is hiding out from her abusive, convict ex-husband, and who is hanging out with her lesbian friend R.C. as they plan their evening’s frolic while guzzling booze and snorting cocaine. Seemingly along for the ride is Peter, a Gulf War era drifter, who seems to be a sensitive, but quirky young man in need of a friend. In brief, R.C. leaves and Peter winds up staying the night, properly sleeping on the floor. In the morning, we abruptly meet Agnes’ ex, the very scary and crass Goss, who threatens and abuses Agnes and then leaves, thinking that Peter is something more than just an acquaintance to Agnes. Agnes, frightened and needy, forms a bond with Peter. They consummate the relationship and the next morning, the buggy business begins. Thus ends Act 1.

Lisa Marie Smith plays Agnes

The entire first act is marvelously staged, and performed with such precision and realism that as I watched, it reminded me of a cinematic performance. It was akin to a very long movie take, which most definitely would become the print. Smith and Mabbitt are magic together. Campbell’s bully is frightening and real. Every line reading seemed perfect, and every choice of pause or stammer or stumble was as natural an acting rendition as I have seen in this or any other theater. We, the audience, are pulled in with tremendous power, as the story unfolds and the tension builds. As we leave the first act, with the actors having encountered the bug, we sit stunned. The lights come up and the feeling lingers.

Then comes the second act. Here, we are suddenly a bit detached. The scenario becomes more bizarre and as we watch what was our realism become a disconnected link, we see the characters go on their psychopathic journey and we are left behind, only able to watch the downward spiral. The magical acting continues but, by design, without the realistic base we felt in the first act. The playwright has set us up and now he is taking us down.

Clay Mabbitt plays Peter

In total, this play and the experience of seeing it was a rare encounter. Everything about it – in terms of what a theater presentation can be and what it can leave you feeling – was spot-on superb. Lori Raffel is, if not the best, among the best crafters of staging in the city. She got her actors to perform at an unbelievably high level and sent the audience on a reaction-filled mental and physical journey. Lisa Marie Smith is simply amazing in her role, especially in her crazed second act monologue where she relates the highest plane of her psychoses in a withering emotional plunge. Clay Mabbitt is beyond extraordinary as he evolves from the mild-mannered Peter to the bug-bitten, deranged maniac. His depth dive is completely mapped and followed, his portrayal is devastatingly sad.

Earl Campbell plays Goss

In the smaller roles, Earl Campbell proves once more than he can indeed play anybody! His scarily drawn Goss is powerful and tension-filled. Even when he is trying to be nice, you know the awful power is right below the surface and can spring at any moment. Lina Ricks fills R.C. with concern and disbelief. Confronted with her friend Agnes’ demise, she plays her disappointment and fear very convincingly and real. Nan Macy returns to Spotlight (after the triumph of her Sister Aloysius in Doubt) in the cryptic role of Dr. Sweet. Strange and hardy, Macy keeps the character ambiguous and veiled – which leads us back to the matter of the script.

Are the bugs real? Are they the delusion we think they are? What parts of Peter’s story are real? Unanswered questions are the hallmark of a solid script. And this script is one to leave you mindful of the many crazy possibilities. The script may not be everyone’s cup of tea; the content could be thought of as objectionable and/or offbeat by some. But the performances are spectacular and need to be experienced by many more than were in the opening night seats.

Bug continues at Spotlight Players in Beech Grove Oct. 6,12,13,14,19,20 & 21 with Fri/Sat shows at 8pm and Sunday shows at 6pm. I would rate it with a cautionary R for language and content. Call 317-767-2774 for reservations.