Christopher Elston / Chris’ Corner (click here to read Chris’ Corner blog)
A young man dies. What are the factors that led to his death? What are the consequences of his passing? How do his family and loved ones cope now that he is gone? These are the questions posed and answered in the drama, In The Bones by Cody Daigle-Orians, currently performing at SNAP! Productions.
Though the theatre season has just begun, SNAP! stakes an early claim to this year’s best drama with a tip top script that fuels one of the finest pieces of ensemble acting that I have seen in many a season. Daigle-Orians’ story manages to strike all the right notes at precisely the right times. It is serious where it must be. Funny where it should be. Heartbreaking where it needs to be. M Michele Phillips’ direction is absolutely flawless. She has missed no beat, maximizes each moment to its fullest potential, and has produced a bumper crop of fantastic performances from this amazingly talented cast.
In the hands of a lesser actor, the role of Luke could easily be treated as a throwaway part. But Eric Grant-Leanna gives one of the best performances of his career in the role of the young soldier whose death drives this story.
The play opens on the day of Luke’s death and from there goes back and forth through time through the use of pre-filmed vignettes for the past and stage acting for the present and future scenes. Grant-Leanna’s natural, boyish charm makes him ideal for the role of Luke. Clearly, this young man is the glue that held his family and loved ones together. One cannot help, but be infected by Luke’s sweet innocence. He’s fun and a bit of a prankster and seems fixated on getting people to say nice things for his videos.
But Luke also carries some heavy burdens. He is a closeted homosexual who has finally decided to reveal to his mother that his “renter” is actually his long term boyfriend. Luke is also a soldier who has done 2 tours of duty in Afghanistan. On one of those tours, he made a choice which haunts him until his death. Grant-Leanna’s delivery during the more serious moments is nothing short of mesmerizing and some of the best scenes in the play are when Luke is watching the video footage he has shot where Grant-Leanna’s clean and clear facial expressions tell you all the story you will need.
Sally Neumann Scamfer is splendid in the role of Dee, Luke’s mother. Through Ms Neumann Scamfer’s wonderful storytelling abilities, you will know the angst and anger of a woman unable to cope with the death of her son and unwilling to accept his sexuality. At points, Ms Neumann Scamfer’s Dee will seem like a heartless shrew as she, more or less, forces Luke’s lover out of their home before disavowing his existence, makes her daughter feel like she ranks a distant second to her dead son, and nastily (sometimes hilariously) snipes at her sister.
Then, just as easily, Ms Neumann Scamfer will show Dee’s better qualities such as her kindness and witty sense of humor. Her Dee is not a bad person, merely broken and devastated that so many things were left unsaid with Luke.
Dan Luethke is sympathetic as Ben, Luke’s partner. At the play’s beginning he is already a crushed man as his slightly bent shoulders and soft-spoken delivery reveal his immense sadness over the loss of his lover. As the years go by in the show, Ben’s sadness transforms into anger not only due to Luke’s demise, but because his part in Luke’s life is essentially erased by Luke’s family, especially Dee. This anger could easily be overplayed, but Luethke keeps it perfectly real. It’s neither too much nor too little.
Luethke is just as strong in the pre-filmed vignettes where he plays Ben as a much happier man with a dry wit and a willingness to play with Luke and his sister, Chloe, who was aware of their relationship. My only criticism about Luethke’s performance is for him to be a little more natural with his gestures. In tonight’s performance, some of his hand movements seemed rehearsed.
Corie Grant-Leanna (the real life sister of Eric Grant-Leanna) is sweet and vulnerable as Chloe. The casting of a real life brother and sister was a stroke of casting genius as it lent gravitas and power to Ms Grant-Leanna’s interpretation of Chloe. All of the emotions she feels towards Luke are so very, very real and natural. You’ll be brought along for the ride as you share her pain at Luke’s death, her uncertainty when Luke decides to reveal his sexuality to their mother, her skittishness as she tries to connect with an old army friend of Luke’s, and her anger with her mother who just cannot move on from Luke’s death. Ms Grant-Leanna does need to put just a tiny bit more power into her projection as she sounded a touch breathy, but this did not take away from her beautiful performance.
Stephanie Anderson kept the audience in stitches with her energetic and raucous rendition of Kate, Luke’s aunt. Ms Anderson easily handles the comedy of Kate with well aimed zingers and imbues Kate with a strong zest for life. But Ms Anderson also takes care of Kate’s more serious moments with equal grace. A meeting between Kate and Ben a year after Luke’s death and a heart to heart talk with Dee at the play’s climax will have your heart aching.
David Mainelli returns to the stage after a four year hiatus and has not lost a step. Mainelli plays Kenny, a friend of Luke’s from the army. Mainelli makes for a fine Southern gentleman as his Kenny is laid back and easy going, but a little persistent as he constantly tries to contact Chloe to learn why she was trying to get hold of him. He is also thoughtful and intelligent and has a wonderful monologue towards the end of the play where he discusses his thoughts on his faith and marriage which I consider the most thought provoking moment of the play and was enhanced by Mainelli’s straightforward, sincere delivery.
Aside from the tremendous acting and directing, this show was equally brilliant on the technical side. Ronnie Wells’ simple, broken wall set accurately depicts the brokenness caused by Luke’s death. Joshua Mullady’s light design is well suited to the shifting moods of the play. Daena Schweiger’s visual media and sound design, especially her music choices, bolster this play admirably.
A young man dies. His death means different things to different people. I do not know what Luke’s death will mean to you after watching In The Bones, but I do know that you will be in for an epic night of theatre and a drama that will rank among this season’s best.
In The Bones runs at SNAP! Productions through September 13. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm. The closing performance on Sept 13 will be at 2pm. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for students, seniors, T.A.G. members, and the military. Thursday night shows cost $10. Due to the subject matter and coarse language, In The Bones is not recommended for children. SNAP! Productions is located at 3225 California St in Omaha, NE.