Posted June 15, 2016 in Articles
Author: Joseph Dalton
Lenox troupe staging acclaimed play about female vet's return home.
It's not a pretty title, "Ugly Lies the Bone," the play that begins previews tonight at Shakespeare & Company. But is there anything about war, or its aftermath, that is appealing?
Jess has served three combat tours in Afghanistan. Although she's back home in Florida, her disfiguring scars and intense physical pain are constant reminders that America's longest war is still not over.
The one-act play by 27-year-old Lindsey Ferrentino debuted off-Broadway last year at the Roundabout Theater Companyin New York and has won several awards. Times critic Charles Isherwood called it "a bracing drama" and described Ferrentino as "a writer of dauntless conviction." The new staging is the first of at least a half dozen regional productions scheduled for the current season.
"Her life has literally blown up," says director Daniela Varon, about the main character, played by Christianna Nelson. "She tries to go home, but home has changed. People are out of work and her mother is in a nursing home."
It's not just the family structure and the hometown that aren't the same. The soldier's original home — her body — seems unrecognizable. Physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons were brought in to advise the production team on how to authentically portray the injuries.
Perhaps this whole scenario — dedicated service, severe injury, difficulty re-entering civilian life — could be applied to any soldier from any war. Yet driving this particular story is a new kind of technology that's proving beneficial in the treatment of chronic pain. Virtual reality video allows the patient to slip into another level of consciousness. It's a kind of escape that's especially helpful to burn patients, and allows them to endure more aggressive treatments.
Although the technology is central to the show, in this production there's no attempt to bring the audience into the experience. So don't expect a sudden shift of the stage picture into some kind of other realm of electronic fantasies. Instead, it's one continual picture of hard reality.
"Our veterans deal with this 24 hours a day," says Varon. "The audience can deal with it for 90 minutes. But there's also humor and wit in the play. I hope it's not painful to watch. It's inviting us into this person's life and to honor what she has done."
While the title "Ugly Lies the Bone" obviously speaks to the condition of the central character, there's also a hint at characterizing war itself. But Varon insists the script has no political agenda.
"I don't think the playwright is interested in judging whether this is a just war," she says. "It's about looking at the people who serve and are injured."
That being said, the play is still timely on many levels. It's set in Florida, where playwright Ferrentino grew up, specifically the community of Merritt Island, where the Kennedy Space Center is located. After the space shuttle program was ended in 2011, the economy there went into steep decline.
"There's an image that struck me," explains Varon. "When you enter the area, a sign says 'Merritt Island - Where Dreams Are Launched.' "
"The shutting down of the shuttle program represents a collapse of that part of an American dream," continues Varon. "The play is set around the time of Atlantis, the last shuttle flight. One dream ends and then what? How do you find a new dream?"