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November 12, 2014
Review: Sticks and Bones
Holly Hunter, Ben Schnetzer, and Raviv Ullman in "Sticks and Bones." Photo: Monique Carboni.
Holly Hunter, Ben Schnetzer, and Raviv Ullman in "Sticks and Bones." Photo: Monique Carboni.

David Rabe's Sticks and Bones took the Tony for Best Play in 1972. It also - and I remember it well - shook up New York theater like a 5 on the Richter scale. Nothing before had so slammed together ideas of classic Americana and the broken jetsam of lives destroyed by Vietnam.  The way in which Rabe fused the mundane with bitter recrimination was nothing short of gasp-inducing.  More than 40 years later, Sticks and Bones has received its first major New York revival in an Off-Broadway production from the New Group, directed by Scott Elliott.  Which of course begs the question: how does it hold up?

Ozzie (Bill Pullman), Harriet (Holly Hunter), and Rick (played to sociopathic perfection by Raviv Ullman) welcome home elder son David (Ben Schnetzer), whose blindness is the least of the miserable legacies from his time in Vietnam. It is a scenario of layered fury from the start.  Ben Schnetzer's David is a wonder of subtext -- both righteous and a scared bully, he frantically clings to redemption from the girl left behind.  Nadia Gan's ghost presence as the girl achieves the impossible: she is one with reality, which is the best any phantom may do.  Richard Chamberlain's family friend/priest is all dogmatic charm, his performance an ideal of hollow confidence and geniality.  And Bill Pullman commands the stage. Subtle and symphonic, he extracts bit by bit the depth and turmoil within the easy-going, raspy-voiced husband and dad thrown onto a battlefield himself.  Holly Hunter's Harriet, however, is discordant - there is spunk, fear, and hyper-domesticity, but there should be a core of strength somewhere in here as powerful as David's rage, and it's missing.

Bill Pullman in "Sticks and Bones." Photo: Monique Carboni.
Bill Pullman in "Sticks and Bones." Photo: Monique Carboni.

From the pragmatic to the sublime, Derek McLane's set and Peter Kaczorowski's lighting create a superb whole like great actors connecting. It is no minor feat when a '70s living room wall, cracked by light, takes the audience to the other side of the world.  Somewhat less successful is Elliott's staging. The play careens in multiple directions at once, jumping from comic desperation to hints of psychosis in virtually every scene -- which is quite all right, but calls for more precision than Elliott provides. This is a fragmented nightmare and we need all the clarity we can get.  When all is said and done, however, the good of the play and production is what haunts you, and the lasting shards of brilliance within Stick and Bones shine today.


By David Rabe; directed by Scott Elliott; sets by Derek McLane; costumes by Susan Hilferty; lighting by Peter Kaczorowski; music and sound by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen; projections by Olivia Sebesky; fight direction by UnkleDave’s Fight-House; production supervisor, PRF Productions; production stage manager, Valerie A. Peterson; associate artistic director, Ian Morgan. Presented by the New Group with Richard Chamberlain (Father Donald), Nadia Gan (Zung), Holly Hunter (Harriet), Morocco Omari (Sergeant Major), Bill Pullman (Ozzie), Ben Schnetzer (David) and Raviv Ullman (Rick). At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, through Dec. 14. For more information and tickets visit https://www.thenewgroup.org/sticks-and-bones.html

At the Pershing Square Signature Center through December 14.

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Review: A Psychiatrist Conducts his Patients in Song in ‘Good for Otto’

By Kathryn Kelly

Good for Otto, presented by the New Group at Signature Theater, offers a master class in acting from its impressive cast, yet the meandering plot and three-hour running time diminish the potency of its striking performances. Ed Harris is Dr. Michaels, a man dedicated to the noble yet difficult task of counseling those who come into the mental health clinic where he works, while he continuously battles his own demons. As one expects from the evergreen noteworthiness of Harris, he brings depth and sincerity to his portrayal of Michaels, creating a raw, yet weathered tenderness that struggles against the health care system he attempts to work alongside and the doubtful negativity that grates him, in the form of his dead mother (Charlotte Hope). Portions of the plot are in Dr. Michaels’s imagination, as when he conducts his patients in song. It’s poignant that he can create harmony in his mind, but cannot find the same success in reality. His patients do not become ‘perfect’ by any stretch in this fantasy, but they are okay, at least for a moment; he has done well by them and he can put his own guilt to rest, if only in his mind and accompanied by piano or tuba. I understand the intent …Read more

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Written by: Jack Mauro
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