REVIEW by Willard Manus

NEW YORK -- Tracy Letts' BUG, first produced in London and Chicago almost a decade ago, is a strange but viscerally powerful and disturbing drama. Set in a sleazy Oklahoma motel room right after Desert Storm, the play deals with Agnes (Shannon Cochran), a honkytonk chick hiding out from her violent, ex-con husband, Jerry (Michael Cullen). Things become even more volatile when her pal R.C. (Dee Pelletier) introduces her to Peter (Michael Shannon), a combat veteran who has gone AWOL from an army hospital where, he claims, they used him as a guinea pig for twisted drug experiments.

Is Peter nothing but a paranoid schizophrenic as the government, in the guise of a creepy doctor (Allyn Burrows), claims? Or are the bugs crawling under his skin--and round the room--real insects, not figments of a feverish imagination?

Peter thinks so and, eventually, so does Agnes, who has not only fallen in love with him but identified with him, to the point of breaking out all over in itchy red welts.

Letts may be dealing with the stuff of science fiction, but he does so in skilful and powerful fashion, making BUG an apt metaphor for our mad, mad times.

Dexter Bullard directed admirably; the tricky lighting design was by Tyler Nicoleau. At the Barrow St. Theater, 27 Barrow St. Call (212) 643-6200 or (800) 432-7250