. . . the explanation and exploration of science gives way to a kind of theatrical magic rarely seen (especially off-off-Broadway), and the scenic and lighting design of Justin Townsend and Peter Ksander often speaks for itself (as does Gregory King’s multimedia film.)
“You’ll notice I’ve compressed time a bit here,” says a very jocular Thomas Edison (the excellent Gian-Murray Gianino), the inventor cum sideshow narrator cum ringleader of Bone Portraits, a fantastically theatric new play. Edison pauses for a moment, adjusting a minute wrinkle on his bright red jacket. “Or maybe you won’t.” Another beat. “Kids these days,” he says, dismissively, walking behind a homemade proscenium (of ghost-white curtains), as he reveals more about the x-ray’s accidental birth and consequences.
It’s a lovely bit of meta-narrative, filled with knowing asides to the audience. Fitting, too, since there are moments where Deborah Stein’s carnival of a script is more confusing than a hall of mirrors, and you won’t know what’s going on. No matter: the incredibly talented director, Lear deBessonet, throws so many visual bones your way that you won’t care. “I’m a scientist and a showman,” Edison says (which explains why the show’s antics are so digestible). “Back then, there wasn’t that much of a difference between the two.”
Bone Portraits is ambitious to the point of overindulgence, but it’s never redundant, and every moment onstage crackles with electricity (sometimes literally). The many storylines grow jumbled and confusing and characters are hard to keep track of since the ensemble is triple-cast. But there’s so much magic onstage that the lack of cohesion is hardly a problem: the explanation and exploration of science gives way to a kind of theatrical magic rarely seen (especially off-off-Broadway), and the scenic and lighting design of Justin Townsend and Peter Ksander often speaks for itself (as does Gregory King’s multimedia film.)
Bone Portraits uses its loose frame to jump between gothic experimentation and vaudevillian sketch comedy. One scene, where the ensemble re-enacts the daily news, is so much like watching good improv that it explains the actors’ co-creator status. A bit much? Sure, but deliciously so. The only real shortcoming is the romantic plot. It’s hard enough to mix comedy and horror: love seems like a third wheel (especially when you forget who’s who). It’s also just not as interesting as watching a character suddenly break into song, or a tap dance.
There’s the sad tale of Clarence Dally (Adam Green), who died of a “mysterious” bone disease after constantly taking x-ray photographs for his employer, Edison. There are the humorous monologues of Nana (Miriam Silverman), an old woman who suggests the ladies wear “lead underwear” to protect against those “men with the x-ray glasses.” There’s desperation in Marie Curie (Jessica Wortham)’s attempt to reach her husband through a séance. There’s a Greek pathos to Roentgen (Michael Crane), inventor of the x-ray, when Edison uses his idea to seek money rather than the people’s good. Bone Portrait’s little bit of everything might not come together with the cohesion of the bones in our body, but it has a contortionist’s flexibility. Remember: these are just portraits—the very briefest glimpses of the soul.
Walkerspace (46 Walker Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00
Wed. – Sun. @ 8:00 / (also) Saturday @ 3:00 [Closes May 20]
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.