Dry Bones is philosophically and emotionally challenging
Are there really “no second acts in American lives,” as the great writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote? The stage play Dry Bones tends to disagree with Fitzgerald in its insistent message of redemption and acts of giving characters another chance.
Dry Bones is a superbly written and directed show that highlights the plight of “returning citizens” and their families. It’s philosophically deep and emotionally challenging art that speaks to the theme of redemption and is not to be missed.
Most in need of redemption in the play is Eugene Haines (the excellent Ernest Highsmith), who has just returned from doing a 15-year stretch in prison for a self-defense murder, ostensibly to protect his little brother Detrick (the naturally good Rob Simpson). Years ago, we learn in a flashback featuring young Eugene (Ronald Benson-El Jr.) and young Detrick (Larquette Brown), Eugene took down a henchman, Sean, of the notorious street hood, T-Rex who Detrick owed $20,000 to. Situations for the characters become bleaker and more gummed up from there.
Masterfully directed by Eli El, Dry Bones evokes the Biblical story of dead bones coming to life as witnessed by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:1-11). Many times in the play the characters are led by circumstances to think, as in that Biblical book: “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone (Ezekiel 34:11).” Ultimately Dry Bones is about convicts aka “returning citizens” reentering society, employment issues, and family secrets; not merely entertainment, this play speaks to what it means to err, and how we as humans overcome that.
The home Eugene returns to in apartment E37 is not a happy one. Eugene’s father Roame (the fantastic Adiyb Muhammad) has recently reunited with his estranged wife Sophie (the outstanding Wanda Moody) after being away for several years. Eugene and Roame don’t like each other. “A 35-year-old man is not a baby,” Roame says about their son to Sophie, the over-protective mom.
Then there’s Angie (JaShawn Logan), who Eugene still carries a torch for after so many years locked away (he’d been sending her letters from prison). It turns out businessman Detrick and single-parent Angie have a secret they just don’t have the guts to reveal to Eugene.
Sophie’s sister (the fabulous Joycelene) is not only a source of comic inspiration, but a conveyor of playwright Ivy Hawkins’ central message: “People make mistakes and people forgive.” It is Carolyn who pleads to Eugene to give Roame a chance to make things right with his father. Later, we see a cycle of crime repeating itself with Carolyn’s son Jamal (Navee Malik) and Angie’s son Tevin (Jayden Malik) running with and being courted by T-Rex.
In the strongest scene, we see Zeke aka Coach (the Hollywood-ready Malachi Malik Sr., who has two real-life sons in the play, Jayden and Malachi) whip Eugene and fellow ex-cons Victor aka “Chico the Merch” (Orlando Gonzalez), Moeda Pierson (Jimmy “Jay” Perrin), Mar-V (Jermel Watson), and Troy (Malachi Malik Jr.) into shape as part of a convict readjustment program. Coach Zeke lays down the rule that all the convicts must get through their 18-months of readjustment without incident or serve out their respective sentences: “If one of you fails, you all fail.”
One by one we see the convicts tell their compelling backstories in powerful monologues, including the choices they made that got them incarcerated. As the story develops we encounter a murder, and two stupendous reveals that push the Haines family to edge of disaster.
The costumes were well done by the cast and the director. I especially liked the outrageous costumes for Carolyn, including a t-shirt with a lip print on it and star-spangled pants. The guard’s (Caleb J. Jackson) uniform evoked the grimness of prison. The set was bare but effective (though the life-sized medical skeleton was a bit distracting). El made a great use of spotlights to highlight monologues and bits of action, and he made good use of sound, which he also ran. Powerfully acted, dramatic and a bit humorous, Dry Bones is family drama that entertains and instructs.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 10-minute intermission.
Dry Bones was performed for one-night-only on March 26, 2016 at THEARC – 1901 Mississippi Avenue, SE, in Washington, DC. Dry Bones will be staged again on April 9, 2016 at 5:30 pm at Henrico Theater – 305 East Nine Mile Road, in Richmond, VA. For future events at THEARC go to their calendar of events.
Listen to William Powell interview the playwright, director, and cast of Dry Bones.