A chillingly terrific ‘Twigs & Bone’ premieres at Nu Sass

To the sound and lighting falls the task of making the gothic horror erupt — and by god do they deliver.

Twigs & Bone is not the first play to put a make-believe baby on stage, but it may be the most hair-raising. This particular phantom infant, conceived by playwright Tiffany Antone, figures prominently and paranormally in a gothic family drama now premiering in a chillingly terrific Nu Sass production at Caos on F. Inside that minuscule gallery space, Nu Sass has squeezed genuine theatrical legerdemain and told a gripping ghost story that explodes in your brain.

As we enter the immersive set by Simone Schneeberg and Dan Remmers, we pass through a flimsy screen door into the realistic kitchen and living room of a shabby house in the woods. A soundtrack of mournful Irish music (“Danny Boy” and more) sets the mood and hints at the heritage of the inhabitants, who have evidently lived here a long time. The aged fridge is filthy, the sofa is decrepit, storage boxes are stacked in the shadows — and a darkling cyclorama of trees and clouds surrounds the place where we 18 interlopers will sit rapt as a family’s secrets seep out.

Aubri O’Connor as Moira, Tom Howley as William, and Lynn Sharp Spears as Bonnie in ‘Twigs & Bone.’ Photos by Katie Wicklund.

We are in the childhood home of Moira, now a 30ish lawyer (Aubri O’Connor), who has not been back in eight years but has been paying for a landline and a succession of cleaners to help out her demented parents, Bonnie (Lynn Sharp Spears) and William (Tom Howley). Alarmed when the phone is cut off and having no other way to reach them, Moira shows up for what will be a horrific three-day visit full of recollected resentments, delusions, and downright scary plot twists.

Moira is shocked to find her 66-year-old alcoholic father pissing in cups he’s placed about. And she is aghast when her 62-year-old mother avers that she has just birthed a baby. To be sure, there is little love lost among the three; their squabbling is nonstop. Bonnie calls her husband “a senile old man.” William calls his wife “an auld whore.” Moira’s refrain is “You’re crazy.” Their triangulated antagonism is often almost funny, but the humor is never far from remembered pain and shame.

What lifts this family’s epic meltdown from excruciating to riveting is not only the astonishing storyline (which I’ll not reveal) and delectably idiosyncratic characters but also Antone’s exquisite writing. Tucked among the dialog is some breathtaking poetry and imagery. For instance, here’s Bonnie in her brogue berating her daughter: “You could have saved us all a load of splinters if you just got down off that cross you’re always carrying.” And here’s William in his brogue commanding his daughter, “Will you turn on that light already? The sky’s gone and swallowed the sun and I can’t see where my body ends and the world begins.”

Director Lynn Sharp Spears conducts the suspense with canny precision and also makes credible the unhinged character Bonnie. Nu Sass Artistic Director Aubri O’Connor, who produced the whole shebang, presents as a memorably complicated Moira. And Tom Howley’s brusque and brash William is spellbinding.

Aubri O’Connor as Moira, Tom Howley as William, and Lynn Sharp Spears as Bonnie in ‘Twigs & Bone.’ Photo by Katie Wicklund.

To the sound design by Charles Lasky and Neil McFadden and the lighting design by Helen Garcia-Alton falls the daunting task of making the script’s gothic horror erupt in effects — making the house seem to shudder, making an ominous storm howl outside — and by god do they deliver: they make extraordinary storytelling stagecraft palpable close-up and in small. Future productions of this play may be mounted on better stages with bigger budgets with even more overwhelming impact, but what this stunning Nu Sass debut has made indisputable is that Twigs & Bone is as sturdy a psychological thriller as has ever been seen in American theater.

Running Time: Approximately one hour 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission

Twigs & Bone performs through June 25, 2022, presented by Nu Sass Productions performing at Caos on F, 923 F Street NW, Washington, DC, in rep with To Fall in Love. Tickets ($30 general admission; $60 date night [2 tickets + 2 drinks + 2 snacks]; $10 industry, student, teacher, healthcare worker) can be purchased online. Absolutely no late seating. Pay What You Will is available for all performances, and a streaming option ($20) is available for selected performances (see schedule below).

COVID Safety: Seating is limited to 18 audience members per performance. Proof of vaccination is required. All guests will be asked to comply with Theater Washington COVID guidelines.

Bones in ‘Twigs & Bone.’ Photo by Katie Wicklund.

TWIGS & BONE
Written by Tiffany Antone
Directed by Lynn Sharp Spears
Assistant Director: Mundy Spears
Stage Manager: Charles Lasky
Producer: Aubri O’Connor

STARRING
Aubri O’Connor: Moira
Lynn Sharp Spears: Bonnie
Tom Howley: William
Sea Griffin: Elemental

ALTERNATES
Katie Wicklund: Moira
Melissa Robinson: Bonnie
Kim Curtis: William
Ellie Nicoll: Elemental

CREW
Set: Simone Schneeberg and Dan Remmers
Lights: Helen Garcia-Alton
Sound: Charles Lasky and Neil McFadden
Costumes: Stephenie Yee
Props: Lynn Sharp Spears
Marketing Designs: Mik Bear
Social Media: Laolu Fayese
Choreography: Mundy Spears

TWIGS & BONE PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE

Friday, April 1 @ 7:30pm OPENING NIGHT (sold out)
Saturday, April 2 @ 7:30pm
Sunday, April 3 @ 2:00pm

Thursday, April 7 @ 7:30pm
Friday, April 8 @ 7:30pm
Saturday, April 9 @ 7:30pm
Sunday, April 10 @ 2:00pm

Thursday, April 14 @ 7:30pm
Friday, April 15 @ 7:30pm
Saturday, April 16 @ 7:30pm

Wednesday, April 20 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Friday, April 22 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, April 23 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, April 23 @ 7:00pm (streaming option available)
Sunday, April 24 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)

Friday, April 29 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, April 30 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, April 30 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Sunday, May 1 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)

Monday, May 2 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Thursday, May 5 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, May 7 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)

Tuesday, May 10 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Friday, May 13 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, May 14 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Sunday, May 15 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)

Wednesday, May 18 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Friday, May 20 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, May 21 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, May 21 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Sunday, May 22 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)

Monday, May 23 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Wednesday, May 25 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Friday, May 27 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, May 28 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)

Tuesday, May 31 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Wednesday, June 1 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Thursday, June 2 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, June 4 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Sunday, June 5 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)

Monday, June 6 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Tuesday, June 7 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Friday, June 10 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, June 11 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, June 11 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Sunday, June 12 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)

Tuesday, June 14 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Wednesday, June 15 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)

Wednesday, June 22 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Thursday, June 23 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Friday, June 24 @ 7:30pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, June 25 @ 2:00pm (streaming option available)
Saturday, June 25 @ 7:30pm CLOSING PERFORMANCE

SEE ALSO:
Nu Sass to debut gothic fairy tale by rising playwright Tiffany Antone (news story)
‘To Fall in Love’ at Nu Sass is a heart-smart revelation (review by John Stoltenberg)

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John Stoltenberg is executive editor of DC Theater Arts. He writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.

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