review: ugly lies the bone

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Ugly Lies the Bone

by Lindsey Ferrentino
Directed by Patricia McGregor

Featuring Karron Graves, Mamie Gummer, Caitlin O’Connell, Chris Stack, Haynes Thigpen
Roundabout Theatre Company, Steinberg Center for Theatre, Black Box Theatre
October 13, 2015 – November 22, 2015 

production site

mamie gummer [richard termine]
Mamie Gummer as Jess. Image by Richard Termine.
Veterans and simulations and mothers and daughters and life as it was and life as it now will be. Ugly Lies the Bone by Lindsey Ferrentino, currently running at Roundabout Underground, is a wonder of simple craft and a bare bones production in a special basement performance space, a product of development programs including work and revision and performance at the 2014 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference where I first encountered it.

Jess (Mamie Gummer) is solid and powerful as a severely burned veteran of combat in Afghanistan, returns after rehabilitation to the Titusville, Florida home of her hospitalized mother where her older sister Kacie (Karron Graves) and boyfriend Kelvin (Haynes Thigpen) are in residence. Jess rebuffs proposals to visit Mom in the hospital, and moves with difficulty around the house with braces and bandages. She runs into passive and now married ex-boyfriend Stevie (Chris Stack) on a trip into town where he pretends not to notice her, she is uncomfortable with her visible and invisible scars.

In one long 80-minute multi-scene gulp, this play provides wonder in language, in pacing, revelations. In the house, on the roof, in a convenience store where Stevie is a clerk, Jess’s wounded body (burns, limbs maimed, walks with walker) and psyche learns to love again and to cast away cloying bad history. As Harper’s drug-fueled Antarctic fantasies in Angels in America and sections of Andrea Stolowitz’s Antartikos, there are extended passages of a simulation snow-covered arctic world, here as part of a pain abatement simulation game that soothes and has many production possibilities. The projections in this basic production by Caite Hevner Kemp move with Gummer’s headgear action and suggest what she’s seeing enough to bring us into that cool distracting world she has selected to distract herself from her wounds. “I still feel like I’m on fire,” she says at point. The off-stage visualization designer promises, “we’re going to build you a perfect world.”

Gentle resolutions await these characters, each in some pain but in that battle, fists up and ready to fight, Jess’s damage seems for a time insurmountable. Scarred, limping, angry, she convalesces in front of us as her mother convalesces off stage. Jess’s journey toward trusting those who truly love her through her pain is the journey of this story. And when sister Kacie finally brings Mom (Caitlin O’Connell) home for good, Jess, who has been avoiding her for weeks is finally forced to meet her face to face. Will Mom recognize her or be afraid of her wounds? Will Mom reject her as deformed and defaced? Mom, whose memory is fading, knows full well who Jess is, yet places her and sister Kacie in grade school. Of course I remember you, she says facing Jess full on and without flinching. Play with your sister and take care of each other on the way to school, she tells her daughters. And when this damaged mom sits on her sofa and holds her arms open to the daughter who has been rebuffing all attempts at solace and connection since her return from the battlefield, Jess melts into her and may, in fact, be on her way to rebuilding her own perfect world.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 15, 2015)

Playwright | Lindsey Ferrentino
Director | Patricia McGregor
Set Design | Tim Brown
Costume Design | Dede Ayite
Lighting Design | Jiyoun Chang
Sound Design | Jessica Paz
Projections | Caite Hevner Kemp
Prosthetics | Vincent T. Schicchi and Thomas Denier Jr.
Wig Design | Cookie Jordan

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