Jeremy Kucharek, of Royal Oak, and Sarah Mertz,  of Ferndale, take on the roles of Peter and Agnes in  “Bug,” set to run Feb. 23-March 4 at the Stagecrafters  Baldwin Theatre in downtown Royal Oak.

Jeremy Kucharek, of Royal Oak, and Sarah Mertz, of Ferndale, take on the roles of Peter and Agnes in “Bug,” set to run Feb. 23-March 4 at the Stagecrafters Baldwin Theatre in downtown Royal Oak.

Photo by Stephanie Smith Hall, provided by Erin McKay


Stagecrafters to bring ‘Bug’ to life

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published February 13, 2018

 Mertz will play Agnes White in the Stagecrafters 2nd Stage production of “Bug.”

Mertz will play Agnes White in the Stagecrafters 2nd Stage production of “Bug.”

Photo by Stephanie Smith Hall, provided by Erin McKay

ROYAL OAK — Stagecrafters will present “Bug,” a psychological thriller written by Tracy Letts that is known for “getting under your skin” with its dark subject matter, including some graphic violence, gore and drug use, on its 2nd Stage Feb. 23-March 4.

Director Rachel Keown said the entire show takes place in a “nasty” motel room and focuses on the downward spiral of Agnes, a divorced waitress with a troubled past, and Peter, a drifter who deserted his Army post, into a world of mania and psychosis.

The title of the production stems from when the pair discover welts on their bodies, which they suspect to be from a bug infestation of a “sinister” nature.

As a 2nd Stage show, Keown said she got to choose the play, which she has seen on stage four times. She said “Bug” is a “really ugly piece of art,” but she encourages audiences to not be afraid to come see the show.

“Agnes is so lonely and craves so hard for someone to hold onto that she makes a connection with Peter,” she said. “The first half of the second act really kind of kicks you in the gut, and it doesn’t let you up.”

Keown said the piece is “impossible to look away from,” but the longer the audience looks, the more they see familiar evidence of their own personal experience in the “brilliant” conversational dialogue and various habits of the characters.

“There’s a weird connection that audiences are going to find themselves making with the characters as they slowly go down the spiral,” she said. “By the end of it, there’s some disturbing things, but the audience has gone along with them, so they’re invested in the characters. It washes over you, almost desensitizes you to it, and you sympathize with these people.”

She said 24 people auditioned Dec. 10-11, and leads Sarah Mertz, of Ferndale, who plays Agnes White, and Jeremy Kucharek, of Royal Oak, who plays Peter Evans, both “blew her away.”

The rest of the cast includes Jennifer Simmons, of Oak Park, who plays Agnes’ co-worker R.C.; Lance Alan, of Farmington Hills, who plays Agnes’ abusive ex-husband Jerry Goss; and Joseph Worthington, of Sterling Heights, who plays Dr. Sweet.

Kucharek graduated from Roseville High School and studied musical theater at Wayne State University. After a stint in Los Angeles, he said he returned to Michigan about two years ago to pursue screenplay writing and producing, and he found out about the casting call for “Bug” via a Facebook group. 

“I like the space of the 2nd Stage at Stagecrafters,” he said. “Because it’s small, you can do more experimental (pieces) than a big box show.”

He said he was able to sink into the role of Peter, and he compared his character to Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, in the movie “The Shining.”

“In every scene, he loses himself a little more,” he said, and added that he began working out five times a week to prepare for the role. “If I’m not panting and sweating (by the end of Act II), I haven’t done my job. It’s also emotionally draining.”

One of the biggest challenges of bringing “Bug” to life, Keown said, was the technical aspects — transforming the second stage into Agnes’ motel room and the necessary makeup and special effects.

“We’re distressing pretty much every single thing, down to the telephone on the nightstand,” she said. “We’re doing some fun and creative things with different painting effects and dyes.”

The theater will hold a Tech Talk Back after the Friday, March 2, performance, in which technicians will discuss what went into the look, feel and sound behind “Bug.”

Tickets cost $20.

Performances will take place at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23; 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24; 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25; 8 p.m. Thursday, March 1; 8 p.m. Friday, March 2; 8 p.m. Saturday, March 3 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 4.

The Stagecrafters Baldwin Theatre, a nonprofit community theater organization, is located at 415 S. Lafayette Ave., south of West Fourth Street, in downtown Royal Oak.

For more information, call the Stagecrafters box office at (248) 541-6430 or visit www.stagecrafters.org.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.