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Ugly Lies the Bone

  • Theater
  • 3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Ugly Lies the Bone: Theater review by David Cote

Far too much new playwriting feels like an audition for HBO or Showtime—naturalistic, quirky, youth-oriented and trendy. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing, when you consider cable covers topical issues better than most dramas. On the debit side, TV-friendliness can lead to Screenwriting 101 dialogue, over-tidy plots and a moral underscored in heavy black ink. Ugly Lies the Bone, Lindsey Ferrentino’s 75-minute portrait of a veteran adjusting to peacetime, is a trade-off: worthy but schematic. The nonprofit Off Broadway equivalent of Oscar bait, the piece telegraphs easily digested points through repetitious rehab sessions for returning soldier Jess (Mamie Gummer).

Jess’s cutting-edge therapy seeks to manage pain through immersion in virtual reality. She has rotated back from Afghanistan after an I.E.D. turned half her face into a livid waffle of scar tissue (prosthetics by Vincent T. Schicchi and Thomas Denier Jr.) and left her limping with a rollator. Of course, Jess is busted up inside as well, heartsick about the guy she left to go to war and lashing out at those around her. Stuck in her childhood home in Florida alongside her chipper yet stressed sister, Kacie (Karron Graves), Jess can’t do much more than scratch at lottery tickets and wait for the next session.

Ugly Lies the Bone is not heavy on plot: The dramatic crux is Jess making peace with her goofy but goodhearted ex-boyfriend, Stevie (Chris Stack), and accepting the kindness of Kacie’s equally eccentric slacker boyfriend, Kelvin (Haynes Thigpen, a bearded loon). Scenes between Jess and Stevie have a humor and tenderness that leaven the more portentous areas of the play—like the therapy sessions, which are presided over by a disembodied voice (Caitlin O'Connell) who intones cryptic bromides like, “You are not built to endure. You are built to recover.” Feel better already, doc!

Patricia McGregor directs the strong ensemble with honesty and attention to detail. Gummer is a bit too coolly patrician to take as a lower-middle-class Florida native, but she delivers a studious and strenuous performance. There should be more plays about injured soldiers coming home. But while Ugly Lies the Bone addresses genuine contemporary issues, its reality is too streamlined and foursquare, too virtual.

Roundabout Underground (Off Broadway). By Lindsey Ferrentino. Directed by Patricia McGregor. With Mamie Gummer, Karron Graves, Caitlin O’Connell, Chris Stack, Haynes Thigpen. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

Written by
David Cote


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