Bug

Tracy Letts' provocative plays, including Killer Joe and Man From Nebraska, invariably get under one's skin. That holds especially true in the creepy yet mesmerizing Bug. This electrifying comic thriller, brilliantly directed by Scott Cummins, makes its eagerly awaited L.A. debut just before this month's release of William Friedkin's film adaptation.

A harrowing portrait of paranoia and degradation in rural America, coupled with a pitch-black love story, Bug mixes Sam Shepard, Alfred Hitchcock, and pulp potboilers, punctuated with ironic humor. Letts' shock-and-awe style places nightmarish metaphorical musings within a gritty naturalistic context. Set in modern-day Oklahoma, the story involves an emotionally beaten-down drug addict, Agnes (Amy Landecker), who hides out in a motel from her abusive ex-husband, Jerry (Andrew Hawkes), who was recently released from prison. Agnes' lesbian friend R.C. (Laura Niemi) brings a soft-spoken Gulf War veteran, Peter (Andrew Elvis Miller), to the room, and he forms a romantic bond with love-starved Agnes. All hell breaks loose when Peter claims to be the victim of horrendous government-conducted medical experiments, linked to a sudden invasion of insects in the room. Are the bizarre sci-fi and conspiracy scenarios described by the increasingly frantic Jerry real, or are they a form of dementia overtaking the emotionally fragile psyches of Jerry and Agnes? As we ponder that question, devastating scenes of emotional and physical violence create a viscerally enthralling experience that might prove too unsettling for the squeamish.

The smashing technical accomplishments — Ned Mochel's galvanizing fight choreography, Robert G. Smith's authentic-looking set, Lindsay Jones' unnerving sound effects, Leigh Allen's lighting, Gelareh Khalioun's costumes, and Julie Simpson's props — support Cummins' masterful handling of this show's daunting physical challenges. The lead performances are astonishing: Landecker's marvelously empathetic blend of wounded soul and hardened cynic; Miller's brilliant portrayal of escalating madness, expertly combining the role's intellectual and physical demands; and Hawkes' appropriately despicable loose cannon. Lending first-rate support are Niemi as the gutsy bar maid and Rob Nagle in a brief appearance as a doctor. Letts' stature as a major American playwright makes a quantum leap forward with this work. Ditto for the illustrious Lost Angels Theatre Company.

Presented by Lost Angels Theatre Company at the Coast Playhouse, 8325 Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Apr. 27-July 8. (866) 811-4111. www.buginla.com.