UGLY LIES THE BONE
BATS Theatre, The Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
01/02/2022 - 05/02/2022
War trauma defines returning soldier Jess’s life. To escape her pain, she begins experimental virtual reality therapy where she builds a breathtaking world and slowly repairs wounds past and present as she heal her relationships, her life and herself.
Small moments carry huge emotional punch in this compelling, honest, and moving story of courage and resilience. Recently discharged soldier, Jess (Harriet Prebble), returns home physically and emotionally scarred after her third tour of Afghanistan.
Moving home to Florida to live with her sister Kacie (Victoria Stevens), Jess finds that life has moved on perhaps more than she has. NASA has cut the space programme, jobs are hard to find and ex-boyfriend Stevie (Jacob Osborne) has married.
“Raw and inescapably moving. A play of small moments that hide big emotions.” Rex Reed, The Observer
Her sister Kacie tries to remain positive but struggles with Jess’s instant dislike of her new boyfriend Kelvin (Nathan Weatherhead), and reluctance to meet their ailing Mother (Simone Kennedy). The heart of Ugly Lies the Bone explores issues of empowerment and the human cost to individuals and their relationships when experiencing severe trauma, with some light touches of humour.
Written by award-winning American playwright Lindsey Ferrentino, Ugly Lies the Bone will premiere at BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington – 1st to 5th of February 2022.
Made in association with Six Degrees Festival.
Please note this show deals with adult themes and language.
BATS Theatre, The Dome
1 – 5 February 2022
Group 6+ $20
The Difference $40
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Jess: Harriet Prebble
Kacie: Victoria Stevens
Stevie: Jacob Osborne
Kelvin: Nathan Weatherhead
Mother: Simone Kennedy
Colabré Theatre Collective's Creative Team
Lynn Bushell - Director
Lizz Santos - Scenic Designer
Morgan Finlayson Smith - Music Composer
Jeevan Gossage - Sound Engineer
Connor Hislop - AV Designer
Matilde Vadseth Furholm - Lighting Designer
Florence Cater - Choreographer
Rita Ann Penhale Cashmore - Costume Manager
Michaella Simpson- Production Manager
Jessica Buckham - Stage Manager
Dennis Eir Lim - Marketing Manager
1 hr 30 min
Compelling and insightful
Review by John Smythe 02nd Feb 2022
In 2015 (pre-Trump) two plays premiered that involved US soldiers returning from tours of duty in Afghanistan. A few months ago, at Circa Theatre, we saw Taylor Mac’s Hir – a bizarre state-of-the-nation allegory that characterised the USA as in transition; as redefining itself. Now we get to see Lindsey Ferrentino’s Ugly Lies The Bone, directed in the Six Degrees Festival by Lynn Bushell.
While very different in style and content, both plays involve the return of a soldier to a home that is not the same as when they left. In Ugly Lies The Bone home is in Titusville Florida, the Cape Canaveral service town that is about to become redundant after the impending final Space Shuttle launch. The human focus is on returned soldier Jess, face scarred from an explosion, body requiring therapy to get her walking again. She is also suffering from PTSD, and having to avoid triggering places (sand) and sounds (sudden and/or loud noises) while participating in an innovative (for that time) rehab therapy involving Virtual Reality.
Eschewing normal physiotherapy, the therapy itself could be seen as a metaphor, with its “Forward only!” mantra propounded by a disembodied voice. Quite how this allows Jess to become grounded and able to function in the real world is hard to fathom, but apparently it does. If the idea is that it tricks her body into overcoming its physical limitations, this could be explored more thoroughly in this production.
Without the budget available to major companies – Britain’s National Theatre sets it in a departing Shuttle’s-eye-view of Titusville; a massive bowl awash with 3-D AV projections with the domestic scenes played out in a tiny square – Scenic Designer Lizz Santos opts for three washing lines of white sheets and minimal props, arguably drawing us in more by asking us to imagine the full reality.
Connor Hislop’s AV Design, projected on the back wall of BATS’ Dome space (rather than as wrap-around immersion), contrasts a postcard Florida back yard with the animated snowscapes chosen by Jess for her rehab. There is also some impactful war footage. Jeevan Gossage (Sound Engineer), Morgan Finlayson Smith (Music Composer), Matilde Vadseth Furholm (Lighting Designer) and Rita Ann Penhale Cashmore (Costume Manager) complete the accomplished design team.
It may or may not be intended for Jess’s facial burn scars, stylised on clear plastic, to catch glints of light and look a bit magical. To Jess they are so disfiguring she can’t even face her mother, who lives in a Home, while to us it becomes quite attractive.
What holds our attention in this lo-fi production is the human story of Jess’s progress in a ‘home’ environment that now seems alien to her. She volunteered for a third tour (as it’s quaintly termed) in Afghanistan, because she felt an affinity with the women there, so the changes in Titusville and those she left behind, as well as in herself, all take some getting used to.
Harriet Prebble anchors the play with a deeply-felt Jess, often prickly and acerbic to mask her fear of what she is having to confront and cope with. It’s an epic journey and she takes us with her all the way. When her complaints about the trivia the preoccupies people include “who the president is” we are reminded this is a pre-Trump play. (Back in 2015 its reference to Obama would have had a very different feel.)
As her happy-with-her-mundane-life sister Kacie, Victoria Stevens offers an equally credible counterpoint. While their relationship seems toxic at times, the depth of feeling attests to how much they truly care for each other.
Nathan Weatherhead draws the short straw in the role of Kelvin, Kacie’s ‘man’. For most of the play the audience is obliged to see him as an entitled loafer whose primary goal in life is to avoid qualifying as fit for work. Weatherhead soon drops any attempt at an American accent, which is probably better than doing one badly, and he often gabbles his lines – some of which may include important information. But towards the end, the way he articulates Kelvin’s sense of his own worth is oddly compelling – which helps the credibility of Kacie’s attraction to him.
More intriguing, because of the slow reveal of its true nature and backstory, is Jess’s relationship with Stevie, who once worked at NASA and now fronts the Space Coast Convenience store attached to a gas station. He is married to someone who is only ever referred to as “my wife” or “your wife” – which stiles an odd note with me. Jacob Osborne does an excellent job of keeping Jess, us and Stevie himself, I guess, speculating as to his true feelings for Jess in her current state, given his idea of what makes for a happy life seems to be very unadventurous.
The idea of going to “visit her”, meaning Jess and Kacie’s Mother – played by Simone Kennedy who is also the voice of the VR Therapist – is resisted throughout by Jess, apparently because Jess fears how her mother will react to her disfigurement. When at last the visit does happen it is shocking, surprising and moving.
Florence Cater is credited online as the Choreographer but actually plays, or rather dances, the crucial role of Jess’s Avatar in the VR sequences. She and two men (also uncredited in these roles) open the show marching to an instrumental version of ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ until Cater breaks out into a lyrical dance sequence. I see this as representing who Jess felt like deep down while on her tour(s) of duty, and beautifully setting up the aspirational Jess who appears during the therapy sessions – sequences that sometimes feel too short to fully convey what Jess is experiencing virtually.
Not so well set up (unless I missed some crucial dialogue) is the testing moment of the final Space Shuttle launch. I found myself catching up with what it was and its implications instead to bearing close witness to Jess’s response.
Taking on a no-budget production of a play that contrasts epic and domestic elements is a test for any director and, while there is room for tightening in some parts and allowing it to breathe in others as the season progresses, Lynn Bushell shows she is equal to the challenge. She has clearly worked well with the actors to give their characters depth – and the decision to touch lightly on the US accent is astute. Ugly Lies The Bone offers a compelling 80 minutes of insightful drama.
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