Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Bone Cage

L to R Kyle Purcell, Nathan Bitton (photo by Scott Gorman)

Lost in the Sticks
by Gregory Bunker

A winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama (Catherine Banks), Bone Cage has the promising CanCon premise of how rural youth deal with their employment in, and the exploitation of, the countryside—their home. The performances are solid and the show can be entertaining, but this theme struggles to shine through its other subplots.

The play starts off on a confusing note with a musical number in the bush that feels forced and long. Moving on, we learn about the problems of each character, and some familiar rural stereotypes emerge: a high school marriage in the works (country kids marry young but this is a stretch), excessive drinking, physical abuse, and the limited intelligence of nearly everyone on stage. There are other uniquely backward issues, including resurrecting dead children and being molested by the town perv. Far too much time is devoted to these last two peripheral threads.

Beer-fueled frustration does provide for some scary and even funny moments though. Samantha Coyle delivers the most nuanced character of the play as Chicky, the outcast and half-sister of the protagonist Jamie (Nathan Britton), the tree processor. The powerful Layne Coleman plays Jamie’s seriously disturbed father, though the writing makes him the least plausible character. And Tim Walker plays a both funny and touching developmentally challenged worker. While the entire cast nailed their roles, the music missed the mark a few times. The volume was occasionally too low and once was even jarring to an unintentionally comic degree. Otherwise, the lines, materials, and organization of the clever set (Elizabeth Kantor) are striking and dynamic. 

Coming from a farm myself, I appreciate the attempt to communicate how rural youth can be conflicted about ambitions, opportunities, and expectations. It was disappointing that there wasn’t more focus on the inner turmoil of Jamie as he decimates forests and the habitats they provide for the animals he loves. That’s the new, key theme here, and it gets lost in the country bramble.

Bone Cage runs to October 5 

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