Who ever thought of Antarctica for a honeymoon? Or poetry that really comes alive? Or a love song that dares to tell the unfiltered truth? Apparently, experimental playwright André Gregory did.
Directed by Paul Carey DRA ’08, Gregory’s unique and unnerving, yet strangely accessible “Bone Songs” is at once a love story and a psychoanalysis of human emotion. Blurring distinctions between time and space, words spoken and those left unsaid, “Bone Songs” highlights the life of a solitary explorer wandering the impending iceberg that hosts his history. It is the split-stage narrative of a passionate love between man and wife — their solemn vow in the beginning, the middle and the end — “Till death do us part.”
Periodically esoteric to a fault, the production nevertheless woos its audience, investing it in the sinews of complicated melodies. Although universal in its appeal, the story often takes leaps the audience may not be prepared to follow. One scene in particular features shrouded beings in fetal positions eerily motioning as if trapped in “Matrix”-esque sacs of amniotic fluid; it is disturbing. Still other scenes remind the audience of the complexities of love and pull on the inconsistencies that make us all human; those scenes, like the bulk of the narrative, are charming.
“Bone Songs” is more than the sum of harsh, artistic dualisms. It is a tightly wound piece that probes human emotion, while simultaneously furthering a distinct narrative trajectory.
The dynamics between He and She (think Chaucer’s Everyman for the 20th century) present consistent turns in their story, adding depth to their relationship. As they battle imposing forces — and one another — the audience comes to understand the meaning of unconditional love.
He and She’s five main manifestations are introduced through an opening scene that overlaps their lines in testimony to their interwoven lives. The tale shifts between depictions of Younger He (Zach Appelman DRA ’10) and Younger She (Nikki Berger DRA ’08), Older He (Slate Holmgren DRA ’10) and Older She (Aubyn Philabaum DRA ’08), and the Explorer (Phillip Owen DRA ’09).
Yet despite abundant potential for quite the schizophrenic production, transitions are surprisingly smooth and natural — likely influenced by the romantic lyricism characterizing their every word.
A departure from the typical intimate Cabaret setting, this production reorients the action so that rather than interspersed amongst the audience, it makes use of a more traditional barrier between stage and seating. An apt move by Carey, the tangible distance renders the remote Arctic scene all the more convincing.
The production is staged entirely in shades of white and black, effectively capturing the binary themes engaged by the nuances of Gregory’s exceedingly intricate prose. At times, he achieves a balance between art and vitriol.
Accordingly, Carey expertly links the quality of Gregory’s original prose to the details of this latest production, finessing more sexual scenes by the use of artful choreography, while maintaining their brazen spirit. Similarly, harsh lighting in an otherwise black theater is softened by white linens adorning both the props and the actors.
It is in this way that Gregory is able to so astutely and directly examine love, hate, life, death, murder, disease, light, darkness — conveying to the audience that these elements really aren’t all that disparate. The music surrounding the on-stage action is a reflection of such sentiment. It is how the audience comes to see (aided of course by the intermittent labels of the projector) that “Bone Songs” is a love song — containing elements of cryptic harmony and airy melody, at once something of a eulogy and a romance.