By Annette Storckman; Directed by Anaïs Koivisto
Produced by Spicy Witch Productions
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 5.22.16
The Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street
by Sarah Weber on 5.25.16
Madison Welterlen in Bonesetter: A Tragislasher. Photo by Phoebe Brooks.
BOTTOM LINE: Clarissa needs to worry about surviving more than high school and boys when a mysterious string of murders terrorizes her neighborhood.
Throughout history society continues to expect women to balance on one impossible double edged sword: a woman’s virginity is a precious indication of her moral character, but it also makes her a “prude.” A woman with an active sex life is considered modern, but it also makes her a “loose woman” (amongst an endless list of other insults). Playwright Annette Storckman shines a spotlight on this contradiction by drawing parallels between two seemingly unrelated works: Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean-era The Revenger’s Tragedy, and 1980’s slasher films. Mix the two together and you get Bonesetter: A Tragislasher, a campy statement on how both works subject their female characters to a frustrating plot device. If a woman has sex she’ll be brutally murdered; if a woman remains a virgin she’ll be pure, but also alone.
Bonesetter follows the misadventures of Clarissa (Madison Welterlen), who’s under the false impression that the only thing she needs to survive is high school. One night her crush Leon (Brandon O’Sullivan) invites her to join their friends on a ghost hunt—it’s the same night that a young woman was mysteriously murdered several years ago in their home town. Clarissa, however, astutely points out she has a test the next day, and a ghost hunt is hardly a date. She stays behind, but her best friend Amy (Meghann Garmany) joins, very inebriated the whole night, and is taken advantage of by her boyfriend Tony (Isaac Allen Miller). When Amy opens up about the incident the next day, Clarissa encourages her to go straight to the police station and press charges.
The catch? Tony is the Mayor’s (Matthew Shott) step-son, so justice may not be served so easily. Well, that’s the assumption anyway. While legal strings are being pulled, a mysterious man wearing a skull for a mask (David Federman) begins a killing spree, leaving notes behind for the Mayor and his family. Who is this man? Why the Mayor? Does this have anything to do with the woman who was murdered all those years ago? No one seems to know. Clarissa’s mother, Glory (Kimberlee Walker), seems to have a sneaking suspicion behind that enigmatic stare she carries around, but something (or someone) is keeping her from revealing her secrets.
Throughout the thickening plot the audience is treated to suspense, fights, and intricate stage blood effects. But, Bonesetter is, above all, sharply witty. While poking holes in the dichotomy of “ideal” female sexuality, Storckman pokes fun at horror film tropes, '80s pop culture, dating, and at the play itself. I think the moment that best sums up the show’s humor is when Leon asks Clarissa, “Don’t you like me?” and she responds quite plainly, “Of course I do, I touched your butt.”
Welterlen delivers some of the text’s best one-liners, and she carries the show remarkably well. Her matter-of-fact performance works perfectly with the play’s campy style while allowing the text’s wit to speak for itself. And, my personal favorite, is Walker’s performance as Glory. Between her heightened sense of urgency, the near-perpetual manic expressions in her eyes, and her spot-on comedic timing, she simply steals the show. Overall, Bonsetter abounds with strong performances, though I do wish Federman found a bit more subtlety when he wasn’t portraying the murderer.
The production takes very strong staging risks. Director Anaïs Koivisto plays with the text’s cinematic references by having it performed in the round, allowing us a 360° view. The space is set up so that actors can walk through and behind the audience, allowing characters to appear out of nowhere. However, performing in the round presents challenges. Though I enjoyed the immersive experience, I was often able to see or hear when actors move behind the audience, thereby distracting from the play itself. Sometimes the amount of movement on stage presented distractions—if multiple scenes occur at once, it takes a moment to realize where you’re supposed to look.
All that being said, there’s an astute brilliance to Bonesetter: A Tragislasher. It reflects on both how little and how much has changed since The Revenger’s Tragedy, offering a cornucopia of food for thought. Spicy Witch Productions is presenting both Bonesetter: A Tragislasher and The Revenger’s Tragedy in repertory, so if you want to see how the two plays relate I recommend going for the full experience.
(Bonesetter: A Tragislasher plays at The Clemente at 107 Suffolk Street through May 22, 2016. Tickets are $20. For performance schedule and tickets visit spicywitchproductions.com.)
Bonesetter: A Tragislasher is written by Annette Storckman and directed by Anaïs Koivisto. Scenic Design by Caitlyn Murphy. Lighting Design by Yi-Chung Chen. Costume Design by Alexandra Rozansky. Hair and Makeup Design by Meagan Gorham. Props and Blood Design by Megan McQueeney. Sound Design by Andrew Tarr. Fight Choreography by Jon Meyer. Production Stage Manager is Frances Swanson. The Stage Managers are Niki Afsar and Liz Power.
The cast is Clio Contogenis, Amelia Dudley, David Federman, Meghann Garmany, Isaac Allen Miller, Brandon O’Sulllivan, Cristina Ramos, Matthew Schott, Kimberlee Walker, Madison Welterlen, Alison Wien.