Home > Carol Davis, Theatre > Theater Review: Orlandersmith’s ‘Bones’ hurts to the core

Theater Review: Orlandersmith’s ‘Bones’ hurts to the core


Kittles and Auberjonois in 'Bones' at Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo: Craig Schwartz

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

CULVER CITY, California— Have you ever been so angry, upset, frustrated or agonized over something that happened to you that it hurts to the core, digs to the bone and gets in the way of your life?

Well if you trek it to the Kirk Douglas Theatre between now and Aug. 8th you can catch a look into the torment and hurt felt by three family members acting out their resentments and rage on and to each other in Dael Orlandersmith’s latest study or reflection on the human condition in the world premiere of Bones.

(The CTG commissioned “Bones” and it is being performed as part of DouglasPlus Programming.  DouglasPlus is “an eclectic mix of theatre choices, ranging from fully-staged or minimally-staged events to workshops and readings…”)

Three family members have arranged to meet for a showdown, or cleansing of sorts. Mom Claire (Khandi Alexander) and her two grown children, twins Leah and Steven  (Tessa Auberjonois and Tory Kittles) are all in their separate rooms (Takeshi Kata) in a shabby hotel near the Newark airport getting psyched up for ‘their’ moment.  Leah has arranged the meeting. The siblings have not seen each other since their father’s funeral.

As one might guess, the deceased father is at the core of most of this family drama but not the only guilty party here. There is enough blame to go around from LA to San Diego and back.

Leah is an artist without a portfolio and to curb her memories, Vodka is her choice painkiller but in her way of thinking, it helps her creativity. Aberjonois is jumpy and very much on the verge of a breakdown. Kittles ‘don’t tread on me’ persona in Steven is steady throughout and Alexander’s Claire is a perfect study (‘don’t blame me, I was only 22’) of a binge in progress. 

All three characters have enough pent up anger to literally rip into each other, chew it up and spit it out. The horrific deeds done to them by their parents when they were about 6, and if we are to trust the memories of the siblings, to each other when they were older, are about as graphic and sick as one can imagine. They are now in their 30’s and memories either fade or become exacerbated depending on the circumstances, but they linger.

Orlandesmith’s spoken words are vivid and rhythmic, grizzly as they might be, as a poetic work. Child abuse is never easy to comprehend but sex and incest are the worst offenders. Mix in lots of scotch, infidelity, lack of responsibility and what you have is disaster or even worse as it accumulates over the years.

Damaged, both Leah and Steven have managed to grow into adulthood thinking that one last face-off or showdown might be able to break the cycle for them so they don’t have to follow in their parent’s footsteps.

But even their own acknowledgements of what happened to them at the hands of those who were supposed to be protecting them can’t seem to wipe the slate clean. The more they try the more conflicting the stories become the heavier the tension falls and the downward spiral just continues until finally they become exactly what they had hoped to wash away.

In the background two jazz musicians, Doug Webb on Sax and Nedra Wheeler on Bass are playing mood music throughout this seventy-five minute exercise or exorcism. All three actors have their chance at getting it right and they do with expertise.

Lap-Chi-Chu’s lighting is a fine indication of location and condition especially with the shadows from an overhead door-like opening in the ceiling that reflects a skewed ray of light that’s indicative of all their lives.

Credit director Gordon Edelstein for his fine handling of Orlandersmith’s bold foray into the darkness; into the bones and soul where the pain lingers and festers like a chronic case of arthritis.

(Leah: “I don’t want to be ‘Cured’, there is no cure…this is not just in my head/it’s in my bones…”)

The combination of excellent body language by all involved and a vivid understanding of Orlandersmith’s compelling story make this one heavy drama to sit through and might strike home for some. The material might not feel entirely comfortable though for everyone.

Before the show it was announced that at the talkback after the performance (the night I attended) a family therapist would be one of the panelists. While there is no age suggestion, I recommend this piece is more suitable for adults.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: July 30th– Aug. 8th

Organization: Center Theatre Group

Phone: 213-628-2772

Production Type: Drama

Where: 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, Ca 90232

Ticket Prices: $20.00/open seating

Web: CenterTheatreGroup.org

Venue: Kirk Douglas Theatre

Davis is a San Diego-based theatre critic.

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