The cast of “Bug,” an emotionally charged play that opens Feb. 15, agrees their involvement has changed them.
Theater freshman Arianna Angeles is starring as Agnes White, the main character in the play produced by the theater program in McCreless Hall.
“Bug,” written by playwright Tracy Letts, is a dark comedy centered around the life of Agnes White, an abused woman hiding out in a seedy motel while on the run from her abusive ex-husband, Jerry Goss.
Angeles has been acting 12 years and wants to become a theater director one day.
She played a vixen in “Dracula” and Mrs. Van Daan in “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
She said Agnes White is lonely while she grieves the death of her son and exhausted while evading her ex-husband.
“She has been mentally, emotionally and physically abused all her life,” she said.
Taking on such an emotionally taxing role has matured her as a person and as an actress because she was pushed to understand a woman twice her age who has experienced things Angeles cannot easily relate to.
“I am the youngest cast member playing the oldest character in the play,” she said.
Even though she does not share similarities with Agnes, Angeles says she does her best to imagine tragedies comparable to what her character has gone through.
She said she does not know what it would feel like to lose a child; however, she knows how broken she would feel if her mother suddenly passed away.
To further connect with Agnes, Angeles said she conducted research on “battered women syndrome” to understand why abused women stay in toxic relationships.
They believe that is the way it should be because they have not experienced anything else.
Finding her character’s sarcasm was her favorite part of playing the role, she said.
Even though Agnes is broken and exhausted, she finds a way to make light of things, and this was fun for her to discover within her character.
She wants the audience to understand Agnes is vulnerable but not weak for staying in an abusive relationship.
She wants everyone to leave questioning everything.
“The play is so confusing,” she said. “I don’t want them to leave being sure of anything.”
Theater freshman Ryan Willis will play Peter Evans, a paranoid Gulf War veteran who becomes romantically involved with Agnes and eventually drives her to insanity by influencing her beliefs with conspiracy theories.
Willis has been performing for nine years and starred in “Dracula” as Van Helsing and “The Grapes of Wrath” as Jim Casy.
He described Peter as troubled and contradictory. “He is maniacal but sweet at the same time,” he said.
Willis said he can relate to his character because he experiences mood swings the way Peter does. He said everyone wants to be nice to everyone they meet, but that is impossible.
The hardest part about playing Peter is portraying violent behavior, he said.
Willis said playing a character opposite of his own personality is enjoyable because Peter is aggressive and outspoken while Willis usually keeps to himself.
Peter suffers from schizophrenia and is paranoid about conspiracies ranging from flying saucers to government experiments on soldiers.
To play the part well, Willis said he had to focus on delusions.
“I had time alone with myself to get into the mindset of being paranoid,” he said.
He also said he had experience with drug use and knows the feeling of paranoia from being under the influence.
He spent an abundance of time questioning everything around him the way a paranoid person would research the conspiracy theories Peter is passionate about.
What stuck with him most was his discovery of “Gulf War syndrome.” He found that soldiers from the first Gulf War were prone to paranoia because of the amount of chemical warfare they were exposed to.
The syndrome is a mixture of paranoia, chronic illness and PTSD for the exposed soldiers, he said.
He wants the audience to know Peter is not a good guy or a bad guy; instead, he is an example of someone who lost control the way anyone can when traumatized.
He hopes that once the audience has seen the play, they will say, “I hope they’re OK.”
Theater sophomore Alexa Garza is starring as R.C., Agnes White’s best friend who introduces her to Peter.
Garza, who has been performing since the sixth grade, describes R.C. as being a free spirit.
“She doesn’t think; she just does. She’s a pitbull; she is very protective of her best friend,” she said.
R.C.’s free spirit made portraying her character a challenge for Garza who said channeling that eccentric personality was different because she is a cautious over-thinker.
It was easier to connect with the protective side of R.C. because she is the same way with her friends.
“I’m always ready to fight,” she said.
She explained that the hardest part about bringing the script to life was rehearsing while the set was not yet built.
It was a challenge to imagine the layout of the stage while focusing on the raw emotions of the script.
Taking this role has changed her as an actress, she said.
“Paula is a great director; let me begin by saying that. As an actress, you never quit growing or changing. And hopefully you never quit growing for the better,” she said.
The preparation for “Bug” has helped her become less bashful on stage because of the support from Rodriguez and the cast during rehearsals.
Garza’s favorite part about acting in this play was simply meeting the cast.
“I found my own people,” she said. She described her cast mates as all being weird and loud and she loves everybody on the team because she is comfortable being herself with them.
Theater sophomore Antonio Romero is starring as Jerry Goss, Agnes White’s ex-husband recently released from prison.
Romero has been performing for eight years and said he first began acting through the Guadalupe Theatre Company. He aspires to become a theater instructor.
He described his character as someone who does not take “no” for an answer.
“He is your favorite uncle and your most hated uncle at the same time,” he said.
The hardest part about playing this character is finding the insurmountable rage Goss is capable of and being able to expel it at a moment’s notice.
While Goss is a challenging character to portray, Romero admits the character is similar to him in a couple of ways.
“He has a lot of passion and rage and wants to be the center of attention at all times,” Romero said.
He explained the most challenging part about bringing the script to life is the fact that it is a hard story to tell. “It’s a gritty story,” he said.
Romero said the sexual and physical abuse depicted in the play reflects recent allegations of sexual abuse in the entertainment industry and the national opioid epidemic. He stresses that “Bug” is not for the faint of heart because it reflects what is happening in real life.
Romero said he hopes that once the audience has seen the play, they will say, “That was worth the money I spent. I want to see it six more times.”
“Bug” is at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15-17, 22-24 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 18 and 25 in McCreless.
The cast will participate in a talk-back Feb. 22 after the show in which audience members will be able to converse with the cast and ask questions.
American Sign Language interpretations of the play will be provided Feb. 17 and 25.
Tickets are $5 with a SAC ID; $8 for other college students, seniors and military; and general admission is $10.
For information, call Rodriguez at 210-486-0492.