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Review: THE BONESETTER'S DAUGHTER at Book-It Repertory Theatre

Now through July 3rd

Review: THE BONESETTER'S DAUGHTER at Book-It Repertory Theatre
Mara Palma and Desiree Mee Jung in The
Bonesetter's Daughter at Book-It Repertory
Theatre. Photo by Anthony Floyd

Memories, secrets, and what is believed to be true are held in a delicate balance in the hands of The Bonesetter's Daughter at Book-It Repertory Theatre. There are the stories we tell and the stories we hide. Can you really know who you are if you don't know the past? The bonds of mothers and daughters will be tested when all is revealed. Book-It Repertory Theatre takes you on a journey through three generations to discover the truth of a family's roots.

When the past becomes clouded by dementia, LuLing knows she must write down her mother's story lest it be lost forever. Her daughter Ruth believes her ramblings are mere confusion, but learns the truth from the translation of LuLing's story. Through a series of flashbacks we learn of LuLing's childhood as well as the story of her mother. With twists and turns, murders and wars, we are led to the truths that LuLing calls "the things I should not forget." The stories of the Bonesetter family, the Ink Makers family, the Coffin Makers family are intertwined and tangled in the past. Through her memoir, LuLing hopes to untangle the family's stories so that Ruth can finally know the truth of their past.

With a cast of eight playing all the various roles of the show, one must be attentive to every scene and costume change in order to keep them all straight. Sometimes a character is played by one actor at one stage of life and by another actor at a different stage, yet it all seems to work. Many of the transitions happen on stage and are clearly defined, and others are signaled with key costume pieces. Once you settle into the patterns, you begin to appreciate the cast even more. Their ability to switch between characters, ages, genders, nationalities, and dialects is quite impressive. Sunam Ellis and Nabilah Ahmed really stood out to me with the clear definitions of each of their characters. Khanh Doan brough Precious Auntie to life, giving beauty and grace to such a tragic story. Her stylized sign language was mesmerizing and at times dancelike. And Desirée Mee Jung provided the gravitas necessary to ground a show with such an epic story.

The stage adaptation of Tan's novel by Desdemona Chiang beautifully captures the story and Tan's use of language. Director Rosa Joshi makes some bold choices both in casting and in staging that force the essence of the characters to the forefront. The collaboration of Scenic Designer Andrea Bryn Bush, Lighting Designer Dani Norberg, and Projection Designer Juniper Shuey results in a visual experience that supports and enhances the story. It is simple when it needs to be simple, and then unfolds, lights up, and shines to give heightened moments a greater impact. Stage Managers don't usually get mentioned in reviews, but this show must have a cue sheet several miles long, and Darian Clogston kept everything in perfect timing. And a quick shout out to Dramaturg Annika Bennett for the concise yet thorough background information in the program that was immensely helpful. If there is a weakness in the show, it is that the adaptation did not reveal how the discovery of the family's truth affected Ruth or GaoLing and their relationship with LuLing. This unexplored territory left an unfinished feeling.

The Bonesetter's Daughter though set in the past reveals truths that still resonate today. As modern society continues to move further and further away from multi-generational homes and connections, it reminds us how family history can shape us, our self-perception, and even our world view. Perhaps most important of all, it reminds us that time is fleeting, and our opportunities to share our stories and learn the stories of others is limited. And these are things that we should not forget.


Your opportunities to see The Bonesetter's Daughter at Book-It Repertory Theatre are also fleeting. The show continues through July 3rd. Visit https://book-it.org/ for more info.




From This Author - Kelly Rogers Flynt

Born and educated in the South, Kelly Rogers Flynt has happily transitioned to life in the Pacific Northwest where she enjoys more rain and fewer mosquitos. She works as a director, choreographer, dramaturg,... (read more about this author)


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