A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Live Girls! Theatre’s production of “Bone Portraits.”
Before I launch into a review of the actual production, I would like to say how much I live Live Girls! as a theatre company. They have a fantastic mission statement — to promote the work of women theatre artists of all stripes — and I am nearly always impressed with the quality of their local playwrights, the vision of their directors, and the dedication of their actors. I highly recommend them as a company on a general basis, and they are in fact one of the few places I would strongly suggest purchasing a subscription in the Seattle area.
That said, there was something about “Bone Portraits” I didn’t quite like. I can’t quite pin-point it, as it had nothing to do with the directing choices, and little to do with the acting (there were a couple of actors, who played the young couple, whose abilities I was less than astounded by; however, as I’ve mentioned before, finding highly talented people is an on-going problem for small professional theatres all over the country, as it is kind of luck of the draw who comes to your auditions). I think what I disliked about the production were entirely subjective complaints. And that’s not to say the production overall was bad; the show was okay, but that’s all it was. It was mediocre, and I expected more from the company, I suppose.
The script itself was not new or innovative in any way. It centered around the character of The Inventor, ie Thomas Edison, who is portrayed not as a great inventor (which he wasn’t) but as a great showman, marketer, and con-man (which he was). He is also the narrator, and four other actors portray all the other characters in the show. This is a fairly typical convention, by now, to have a narrator giving the through-line of a show. It doesn’t do anything in particular for the plot, and it didn’t make me, as an audience member, sympathize with him anymore than I would otherwise.
The Inventor is also not written as a character who grows or changes at all. We’re supposed to sympathize with his downfall, half-way through the show, when one of his colleagues dies from overexposure to x-rays, but I don’t particularly feel any sympathy for him. I think that is partly due to my own aversion to his character traits, but also partly because he is not portrayed in a way that he shows any growth. We don’t see a tragic hero’s downfall, where he first learns a lesson and then deals with his own demise; we see the downfall of a man who’s thirst for fame and money (as he reiterates over and over, to some comic effect) is accidental, his grief genuine but his repentance nonexistent, even when society shuns him. We the audience are supposed to learn something from it for ourselves, I suppose, and perhaps the scientific community is supposed to learn something from it as well, but since I didn’t like him in the first place, it didn’t make me reflect, or see anything new that I didn’t already know.
So, the stage conventions weren’t particularly innovative, and the main character wasn’t particularly sympathetic. It’s hard to feel impressed by a show that lacks those two qualities. The main character should be at least interesting, if not likeable (as I aimed for in MacBeth — rather than finding the heroism, we found the sociopath, so a highly hate-able character) and he even failed at that — he was just a droll, typical example of American values that need to be changed. Yawn.
This is not to say that there were parts that I didn’t enjoy. There were two actors who appeared quite a few times on the cabaret stage (a tiny stage built into the set, how meta) as burlesque Punch and Judy-style characters who represent the general population’s excitement over these new discoveries. They were hilarious, and I always enjoyed the acts that happened on that tiny stage, even if it was a little more meta theatre than I generally enjoy.
Overall, a pretty good production, but less interesting than I wanted it to be.