Bones -- Theater Review



The people who run the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City should be proud of their new world premiere.

In "Bones," Dael Orlandersmith has given birth to 65 minutes of pure venom behind which lies an apocalyptic vision of the future actuated by the hopeless misery of a middle-class black mother (Khandi Alexander) and her grown twins (Tory Kittles and Tessa Auberjonois).

The writing -- which has a kind of musical poetry all its own, peppered with repetition as if finally taking rap seriously -- is informed by terrifying reality-based experiences. The occasion for the monologue-a-trois is the children's bleak recognition that they can break the cycle of incest and self-hatred only by acknowledging it, with their unwilling, alcohol-addicted mother along for the ride. So they meet in a cheap airport hotel that, as everything in their lives, pours its own acid on their wounds.

There's no plot to this "Bones" -- which never will be mistaken for the TV show -- just three soap opera-beautiful people who achieve dizzying heights of theatrical electricity, like children of Lear being chased by Freddy Krueger.

The actors, ultravivid and alive, savage their characters and tear them apart. They are truly, as Orlandersmith dictates in her dialogue, members of a "panther" family: sleek, deadly and consumed by guilt and despair at who they are and what has been done to them. It is an elegant paean to all our human society who have borne the hatred of others in the privacy of their arms.
An effect of classical Greek symmetry is amplified and moderated by having a sax player and a bass -- just offstage but visible -- the latter with a sad and moving voice who lend comfort at first but eventually become drawn harmonically toward the family's emotional black hole. The play incorporates musical references, from "Blue Monk" to Dylan to Freda Payne, as a way of landmarking their joint history.

"Bones" is staged in one of the Kirk Douglas Theatre's backstage spaces with which the production team has done wonders, including cartoonish costumes that accentuate the negative and an angled door like an endlessly repeating Escher object hanging high above the stage, shutting in the pain to which they all are doomed.

Venue: Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City (Through Sunday)
Cast: Khandi Alexander, Tessa Auberjonois, Tory Kittles
Saxophones: Doug Webb
Bass: Nedra Wheeler
Writer: Dael Orlandersmith
Director: Gordon Edelstein
Set designer: Takeshi Kata
Costume designer: Ellen McCartney
Lighting designer: Lap-Chi Chu
Sound designer: Adam Phalen
Casting: Bonnie Grisan