Review: GOOD BONES at Studio Theatre

Good Bones is a play that will linger in your mind.

By: May. 19, 2023
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Review: GOOD BONES at Studio Theatre

A solid, well-crafted, and thought-provoking play---Good Bones is about four individuals coping in various ways with issues of onrushing gentrification, loss of community, and reconnection. Playwright James Ijames has written an all too relevant story about what happens when a community and sense of place fragments, shifts and splinters off into new paradigms. Now being presented at the Studio Theatre in the intimate Milton Theater space, this absorbing play uncoiled with the mix of familiarity, drama and humor that is the stuff of everyday life -but, also, was replete with the many small, insightful details of writing that show a very perceptive playwright at work.

Played out in a seemingly spontaneous timeframe of one hour and forty five minutes (with no intermission), this involving play is directed with finesse by Psalmayene 24 and is a very engaging triumph of pacing and timing ---full of dramatic twists and turns that mirrored the preoccupations, anxieties, and coping skills of four very well-conceived characters. The play has an almost Chekhovian feel as I felt I was witnessing the day to day lives of various characters that could very well be people who one might know.

Playwright Ijames' great strength is avoiding any didactic or sermonizing tone when delineating his characters. Director Psalmayene 24 picks up his directorial chores by taking his cues from the very perceptive, yet non-pretentious and free-flowing interchanges of dialogue provided in the very natural writing of the playwright.

The four characters presented here portray the various opinions that people may have about concepts of belonging, community and gentrification. Cara Ricketts portrays the character of Aisha as someone who wants to give back to the community she had previously left. As conveyed in her dialogue and ideas, the character of Aisha embodies the idealistic yet pragmatic individual who may have left the original community she grew up in (a place perhaps very much like Washington, DC) but she returns and is proud to balance family life with her work in a civil engineering profession. Ms. Ricketts' portrayal is luminous and touching as she copes with the contradictions inherent in her relationship to the community.

The character of Travis (the husband of Aisha) is portrayed by Joel Ashur as a confident soul who gets disgruntled if he is unduly inconvenienced. The character of Travis is that of a successful restaurant owner who enjoys the financial perks of his success amidst the developing yet increasingly upscale neighborhood he lives in. The scenes with Mr. Ashur discussing issues with his wife, Ms. Ricketts, are very well-played. Mr. Ashur's scene alone onstage while preparing dinner to the musical strains of Stevie Wonder's rhythmic "Superstition" is a riot of delirious heightened mania.

Johnny Ramey as Earl portrays the role of a confident yet very down-to-earth and opinionated handyman who does not care for the ongoing gentrification of the neighborhood. Mr. Ramey superbly handled several scenes when his character bemoaned the downside of rapid gentrification at the cost of not weighing the negative effects of displacement and the loss of the historical character of community. Mr. Ramey possessed a physical presence that commanded the stage with quiet authority.

Deidre Staples as the character of Carmen (sister to Earl) was a delight in her role. Ms. Staples portrayed her character as a smart yet friendly and non-judgmental person who used her intellect to quickly "size-up" situations. Ms. Staples' character seemed to be a calming presence who looked for ways to help others.

Set Design by Misha Kachman is very effective with a modern kitchen at the center of the stage space and a deep view of the adjoining hall and stairway at stage right. Behind the main scenic view is a row of trees viewable through a see-through panel.

Costume Design by Moyenda Kulemeka was appropriate yet edgy and colorful when needed.

Sound Design by Megumi Katayama was very innovative--- particularly the utilization of seemingly haunted ghosts of the past howling and echoing at differing intervals in the play.

We all search for an idea or reality of what "home" and community mean to us and this play deals with this subject with incisive dramatic heft and skill. In the play's haunting and tentatively hopeful conclusion, the pregnant Aisha gives birth to her child, and a reconnection to new life and belonging to the neighborhood becomes a powerful new reality.

Good Bones is a play that will linger in your mind.

Running Time: One Hour and 45 with no intermission

Good Bones runs through June 18, 2023, at the Studio Theatre located at 1501 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC.

Photo credit: L-R Joel Ashur and Cara Ricketts in Studio Theatre's World Premiere producton of Good Bones. Photo by Margot Schulman.


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