Ugly Lies the Bone Knows What it is Doing

If you find yourself in the audience of Ugly Lies the Bone, don’t write off the entire play...

About half-way through Lindsey Ferrentino’s play - playing at the Black Box Theatre - I made the hasty prejudgement that the story wasn’t adding up, the characters were passed the point of nuance or rehabilitation and I couldn’t quite pin down what the point of all of this was. 

I was still 'there’ to watch Mamie Gummer’s daring and kick-ass performance - she plays Jess, an army veteran returning home crippled in burns and pain, but enters recovery with the use of virtual reality technology all the while learning about how her hometown and the people have changed in her absence. Mamie taps into Jess’ physical disfiguration and commits, making every one of her flinches, stumbles and shrieks of pain horrifying to watch. 

But as a character within the play, I had a topsy-turvy relationship with Jess as her occasional spouts of self-righteousness and aggression render her insufferable. But in Mamie’s hands, she’s less of a character and more of a fully-realized human who has been through a lot...and is STILL suffering. Overall, she was doing all the heavy-lifting while Ugly Lies the Bone was getting its shit together.

But I wish there was a camera recording my “oh, okay!” reactions during the final ten minutes, as all of the set-ups - most of which I couldn’t even perceive as they were unfolding - received their payoffs. For such a linear writing structure, Ferrentino had some surprises as Ugly Lies the Bone circled back and decided what it was. Essentially, ULtB is about a woman’s perception of herself, physically and mentally, and the shifts it undergoes in response to the (also ever-changing) environment around her. Coupled with Patricia McGregor’s sensible direction, Jess’s character and her journey get as much development as you can in the 80-minute runtime.

Not to mention, Ugly Lies the Bone will make anyone want to vacation in the snowy mountains somewhere. The visuals used in Jess’ virtual reality system - the idea coming from Jess’ sister - were pure joy as we follow along with Jess’ therapy. Digital projections are common-place in the theatre nowadays, so it was nice to see its application put to good use and bumping up ULtB even further. Even if the play takes its time building momentum, the exceptional leading lady, plus the stunning visuals, are more then up to the task.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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