BWW Interview: Chris Stack is UGLY LIES THE BONE's Virtual Man-Child
UGLY LIES THE BONE is the gut-wrenching story of Jess, a scarred and traumatized veteran home from the war. It's a painful transition for her and her loved ones, virtually and literally.
When Chris Stack (Stevie) first read the play (by Lindsey Ferrentino), he was struck by its unsentimental look at war veterans. "I was blown away by its humanity, how we treat our veterans and how they get integrated in society," Stack said.
Jess (Mamie Gummer) has returned home to Titusville, Fla., after her third tour in Afghanistan and after many months spent recovering in the hospital. Jess is horrifically scarred and in relentless pain. Her right leg is twisted; she struggles to walk. "Beauty is but skin deep," wrote Albert Einstein, "ugly lies the bone. Beauty dies and fades away, but ugly holds its own."
Titusville's economy is tethered to NASA's shuttle program, which is about to launch its last. Stevie, Jess's former boyfriend, now married, has a dead-end job selling lottery tickets and candy in a gas station convenience store. When Jess first encounters him after her return, sparks fly and the relationship is cautiously rekindled.
Her sister Kacie (Karron Graves), caretaker of the family, encourages Jess to try a new virtual reality therapy. A silken voice (Caitlin O'Connell) instructs Jess to put on specially designed goggles. They enable her to control an avatar with her facial movements. Jess virtually walks through a snow-blanketed forest, and the image helps dissipate some pain.
"Kacie and Jess are a yin/yang of sorts," said Graves. "Jess is caustic irony; Kacie is sweet optimism. Both share a humor and survivor spirit that bonds them entirely," she said.
"It's this kinship that Kacie longs to revive once Jess comes home'" Graves said. "Kacie's motivation to keep Jess in good spirits is life and family and love." But even Kacie has moments of despair.
"Kacie gets a taste of her limits," Graves said. "She's a caretaker by nature, by being the elder sibling and by necessity. But she reaches a breaking point," she said. "We try and try and try and sometimes it works and sometimes we fall."
Stack understands the motivations of his character. "I can identify with Stevie in many ways," he said. "I may have higher aspirations than he does, but he's in an unfortunate situation." The end of the shuttle program has led to the absence of tourists lured by the launches. Businesses have closed down. "The shifting of the town led him to his own personal fate of frustration," he said. "I love how the character deals with the obstacles."
Jess joined the military after high school, Stack said, "After two tours she went to college then returned to Afghanistan. In reality, tours change people for better and worse. Jess is growing up and he's not.
"They deeply love each other but have grown in different directions," Stack said. "Stevie can't relate to Jess. She talks about some of the Afghan women wanting to see her eyes, her face and hair," Stack said. "Stevie can't relate. His life is work and home, where he puts on the TV and then goes to bed. He's kind of plateaued man-child, a lost boy," he said.
"Stevie lost a couple of jobs because all the businesses went under. It was a tough time for that town.
"Jess has grown up and away from home. There's a really beautiful and subtle dynamic in this play," Stack said. "They love each other but are in different worlds."
The two decide to watch the last shuttle blast off from the roof of her house, a spot they frequented in the past. "We used to sit up there, party, drink beer and smoke weed," he said.
"The play's about hope and the possibility of recovery," Stack said. "It's not on a large or political scale.
"Virtual reality has shown some phenomenal results with burn victims," Stack said. "The only other option is morphine and narcotics to numb the pain.
"Jess represents the past, a time when she was physically beautiful, a time when there was hope, a life, a career and romance," Stack said. "She sees the world as what it was and it causes her a lot of pain. To begin the recovery process she has to let go and move forward.
"Whatever the pain is, there are other people who suffer and struggle and recover. We all get wrapped up in our own lives and to see what other people go through can open your eyes," Stack said.
"It's a tribute to the strength, resilience, faith and hope of these troops," Graves said. "The war doesn't end overseas," she said. "These soldiers bring it home with them."
Ugly Lies the Bone is playing at the Roundabout Underground's Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/Black Box Theatre, 111 West 46th Street.