A creepy-crawly play at Steppenwolf Theatre marks a Chicago homecoming for the material—and its star, Carrie Coon.
After a Tony Award-nominated turn in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Carrie Coon has cemented her star status with roles in Gone Girl, The Leftovers, Fargo and Avengers: Infinity War.
"I am terrified, and I don’t get intimidated by material very often,” says Carrie Coon of the skin-crawling, conspiracy-laden play Bug. She’ll take the stage as Agnes White, a lonely waitress living in a seedy motel, in the Steppenwolf premiere this January. It should be noted that the show is written by her husband, Pulitzer Prizewinning playwright Tracy Letts—who has been a Steppenwolf ensemble member since 2002—but that’s not what scares her. “I want this to be the best version that’s ever been done,” she says. “I’m very competitive about it.”
This production will mark Coon’s first time on the Steppenwolf stage since being named to the ensemble in 2018—it’s a welcome return after focusing her recent efforts on the silver screen (she’ll appear in Ghostbusters 2020, due out in July). It’s a good thing, then, that she’s setting the bar high. This production also marks the largest theater Bug will have ever played—but rest assured, the content retains the same electric, breathless energy of when it was making audiences squirm the last time it played in Chicago at Redtwist Theatre in 2011. “When you write a play, you can only hope it has thematic resonance in the future,” Letts says with a laugh. “Maybe not this much, though.” Written at a time when readers were just starting to log online, Bug plays into the fears of the early days of the web—fears that are still extremely prevalent. “Conspiracy theories,” Letts says, “still sit at the forefront of the American imagination.” Because of that, the play’s world is hard to escape once the action begins. “It never fails,” he says. “Over the course of the show, people start to itch.”
Alongside Coon, Steppenwolf ensemble member Namir Smallwood will take the stage as paranoid Gulf War veteran Peter Evans, a role originated by renowned Chicago actor Michael Shannon—no small shoes to fill, Coon notes, but adds that Smallwood is a sublime actor. “I just know having Namir as a scene partner is going to make me better,” she says. Yet another jewel in the crown is director David Cromer, another big Chicago name who picked up a Tony Award in 2018 for his direction of The Band’s Visit. “I have such great respect for David,” says Coon. “He’s at the top of his game.”
As to what Coon is most looking forward to about being back in the city? “My bed,” she quips—the couple own a home in Bucktown—and sharing all that the city has to offer with the couple’s young son. But beyond that, she’s also happy to be back at Steppenwolf, a second home to her. “In striving for that perfect night, even though you’ll never have it,” she says, “I still get to be the arbiter of taste for myself every night.” Jan. 23-March 8, tickets $20-$122, 1650 N. Halsted St.
Photography by: PHOTOS BY JUSTIN BETTMAN/AUGUST