Off-Broadway Theater Review: STICKS AND BONES (The New Group)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on November 6, 2014

in Theater-New York

BRAWL IN THE FAMILY

Ozzie (Bill Pullman) and Harriet (Holly Hunter) are living out the American dream. They have a house, a car, a TV, and two sons: happy-go-lucky high-schooler Rick (Raviv Ullman), and his older brother David (an intense Ben Schnetzer), who is off in Vietnam fighting for his country. The New Group’s revival of David Rabe’s Sticks and Bones begins when David is brought home blind, delivered unto his parents by a Sergeant Major (Morocco Omari).

Raviv Ullman, Bill Pullman, Holly Hunter, Morocco Omari and Ben Schnetzer (back) in The New Group production of David Rabe's Sticks and Bones. PHOTO CREDIT: Monique Carboni.

Upon first arriving David freaks out, believing himself to be in a strange house with strangers; he isn’t far off. So ingrained is the mythology of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in Ozzie and Harriet, so essential is it for them to believe that they are living this American middle-class ideal, that when David’s presence introduces into their life the horrors of reality, not only does his family not have the tools to help him with his pain, they don’t want to know about it; to them he’s like some grotesque, slimy, helpless creature that’s been left on their doorstep for them to take care of. In fact, what concerns them and their priest (Richard Chamberlain) the most is David’s relations with a Vietnamese girl while he was over there; the fact that Zung (Nadia Gan) is Vietnamese disturbs them more than his blindness, more than any atrocities he might have seen or committed.

Bill Pullman and Ben Schnetzer in The New Group production of David Rabe's Sticks and Bones. PHOTO CREDIT: Monique Carboni.

After David’s arrival, the always chipper and oblivious Rick does not skip a beat, continuing his life as though nothing has changed. Harriet feels for her son but is too frightened and stupid to do anything meaningful to help him; instead she keeps offering him orange juice and fudge.

Ben Schnetzer, Raviv Ullman, Bill Pullman and Holly Hunter in The New Group production of David Rabe's Sticks and Bones. PHOTO CREDIT: Monique Carboni.

But Ozzie is profoundly affected by David’s return. The real center of Sticks and Bones, Ozzie is a man whose smallness of character has led to many festering regrets. We get the sense that he got sucked into this feel-good-1960’s-sitcom life, but that in his youth he’d wanted something more, nothing specific, just something ecstatic. Yet so fundamentally limited is he in every way, so scared and impatient, it is plain early on that for him ecstasy was never within the realm of possibility. His resulting bitterness and resentments, dormant (we can surmise) until David’s appearance, bubble to the surface, and Ozzie starts becoming unhinged.

Bill Pullman, Ben Schnetzer and Nadia Gan in The New Group production of David Rabe's Sticks and Bones. PHOTO CREDIT: Monique Carboni.

Masterfully directed by Scott Elliott, and with all around outstanding performances by the stellar cast, this black satire of American middle-class values is a powerful and disturbing experience. So captivating are Mr. Pullman’s and Ms. Hunter’s portrayals—they play out every moment with such startling authenticity—that even in those few instances when the play itself is redundant and stagnates, the show remains riveting.

Holly Hunter, Ben Schnetzer and Raviv Ullman in The New Group production of David Rabe's Sticks and Bones. PHOTO CREDIT: Monique Carboni.

Derek McLane’s cozy, nostalgic set, designed to looks like the ideal house of the 1960’s TV-family Sticks and Bones is satirizing, is a poignant juxtaposition to the spiritual and emotional violence taking place on it. Combined with Peter Kaczorowski’s cinematic lighting, as well as Olivia Sebeksy’s transportive projections and Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen’s sound and original music, the world we are watching feels like a single living organism, a manifestation of the hideous, inhuman aspect of the spirit living inside the American dream.

Richard Chamberlain and Ben Schnetzer in The New Group production of David Rabe's Sticks and Bones. PHOTO CREDIT: Monique Carboni.

photos by Monique Carboni

Nadia Gan, Holly Hunter and Ben Schnetzer in The New Group production of David Rabe's Sticks and Bones. PHOTO CREDIT: Monique Carboni.

Sticks and Bones
The New Group
Pershing Square Signature Center
Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street
Tues – Thurs at 7:00; Fri at 8;
Sat at 2 & 8; Sunday at 3 & 7
scheduled to end on December 14, 2014
for tickets, call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.thenewgroup.org

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