Ugly Lies the Bone, by Lindsey Ferrentino. Directed by Daniela Varon. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Christianna Nelson, Ariel Bock and Rory Hammond; photo: Ava G. Lindenmaier.
"The Knox sisters rooftop partay!"
Christianna Nelson and Hamish Allan-Headley; Photo by Ava G. Lindenmaier.
There are three Knox women in this play: Jess, who has suffered through three terms of combat service in Afghanistan; Kacie, who has suffered at home in Titusville, Florida trying to maintain life as she has known it in the face of family disasters and her own incompetence at relationship management; Mom, lost to Alzheimers or the closest thing to it. When the three come together, this new play, Ugly Lies the Bone, on stage at Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Stage in Lenox, MA, has its finest moments. Until then the play seems set on self-destructing with too many plots and too many unexplored regions.
We are back in the realm of the 90 minute one-act play. Though it covers a lot of ground and ample time in the story, it is unrelenting and unmoving. This is something of a surprise considering the situation: a young woman badly disfigured through her battle service has finally come home only to find her world completely turned on its ear and she becomes involved in a radical therapy which can only lead her so far toward recovery before it, like so much else, lets her down. A lengthier, two-act play might well have brought some satisfaction to this complicated set-up. The one-act feels rushed and ultimately unsatisfying.
Playwright Lindsey Ferrentino has brought us six intriguing characters. Jess, the returning soldier, is physically and emotionally destroyed by her experiences which she does not regret. Her former boyfriend, Stevie, has married someone else and he cannot, once he is confronted by Jess, leave her alone. Kacie, her sister, is in a disastrous relationship with Kelvin, the last of the hippies, who actually has smarts and sensitivity which he keeps hidden under an invisible barrel. Mom, with her illness, still has the wherewithall to inspire kindness and love. The Voice, a woman who guides Jess through her Virtual Reality existence and road to recovery is limited by programmatic design and is ultimately a thwarting rather than helpful guide through life. The big difficulty here is that there is too much happening in just over 90 minutes. Too little time is spent with the essentials and too much time is spent with the small and/or individual solo moments each of these people experience.
Director Daniela Varon works very hard to knit all of this into a warm, wooly sweater of a play, but the fabrics don't mesh well and there are gaping holes in the garment. Where we should feel something, and when we should, the play is moving away and onto something else. The fallback to the Virtual Reality theme is dangerous for even when we experience with Jess what she is feeling the unreality of it strikes us before it does her. We cannot react to the character because the character seems to be reacting to us. It is hard for the audience to BE the virtual reality experienced by these people. It is only the characters we are left with and they are not completely drawn by their author.
Christianna Nelson plays Jess with all the anguish she can muster. It is a performance to be reckoned with. She moves with pain in her body, voice and her very existence on the stage. She exemplifies what it means to be deconstructed as a human being. It is a dynamic performance that deserves to be seen in a better play. It shares one major fault with Rory Hammond who plays her sister, Kacie. Neither woman becomes real; they both feel "acted."
Hammond has some fine moments. Her insistence that Jess visit their ailing mother is beautifully played. Her utter belief in her boyfriend, against all odds, is beautifully played. But there is something so pat and ordinary in the creation of this character that she never comes off as more than just a symbolic person.
The Voice, played by Ariel Bock, is perfectly disconnected from any human reality, played without a hint of sympathy or empathy. Bock does this alienated ideal with excellent skill and we are never in tune with her use of technology instead of "heart" to aid an ailing victim in pain. As Mom, Bock has the final scene of the play well in hand as she does what is unexpected by the other characters, but not by the audience which is prepped for what happens and so is unimpressed by it.
The two men in the play are diametric opposites both in their characters and in themselves. Dylan Chalfy plays Kelvin, boyfriend to Kacie, and his work here is remarkable only in that it is easy and a bit cheap as a performance. He is the most predictable player, overplaying in a TV comedy manner exemplified in the work of Chris Elliott whom he slightly resembles.
On the other end of the spectrum is Hamish Allan-Headly as Stevie. His story is one that slowly unrolls and is, for many reasons, the most compelling in the play, and perhaps even the best written. We learn about him in a very step-by-step manner and over and over find ourselves surprised as each new fact is revealed. We almost like the character though we are hesitant because his motives seem questionable. Allan-Headley does a very nice job with this man, making him into the one person we want to know more about by the end of the play.
Costumes and make-up are the key to this production and the work of Govane Lohbauer (costumes) and Scott Jones (make-up and wigs) are truly wonderful forging the characters where the script cannot. James W. Bilnoski provides excellent lighting and Amy Altadonna the most appropriate sound design.
This is a play about recovering what has been lost - on so many levels - and it is a play that seems to be losing its battle, losing its way. It is as though everyone was standing on a roof, on a ledge, looking down and seeing nothing but their own faces staring back up at them. That's a hard thing to make work, to make fascinating. It's a challenge that, perhaps, the playing will make achievable, but it hasn't gotten there quite yet.
Ugly Lies the Bone plays in repertory at the Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, Massachusetts through August 28. For tickets and information go to their website at www.shakespeare.org or call the box office at 413-637-3353.