Christianna Nelson and David Sheehan in Ugly Lies the Bone at Bloomington Playwrights Project.

Matthew Levandoski

Christianna Nelson and David Sheehan in Ugly Lies the Bone at Bloomington Playwrights Project.

Review: Ugly Lies the Bone at Bloomington Playwrights Project 

****1/2
Pain is sometimes a signal to stop what you’re doing. Other times it’s just a part of the healing process. The challenge is knowing when to avoid it, when to ignore it and when to embrace it. Lindsey Ferrentino deftly explores this challenge in her award-winning new play Ugly Lies the Bone, now enjoying a run at the Bloomington Playwrights Project under the direction of David Anspaugh before it opens off-Broadway this fall.

Soldier Jess (Christianna Nelson) comes home to Florida to recover from horrific burns that she received during her third tour of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, other kinds of pain await her in the form of a lover who now avoids her (David Sheehan), a sister who is now dating a bum (Tory Crowe and Scott Parnell), a mother who has moved to a nursing home (Mary Carol Reardon) and more.
click to enlarge Christianna Nelson in Ugly Lies the Bone at Bloomington Playwrights Project. - MATTHEW LEVANDOSKI
  • Christianna Nelson in Ugly Lies the Bone at Bloomington Playwrights Project.
  • Matthew Levandoski

A new kind of virtual reality game is supposed to help Jess with at least her physical therapy. She answers questions about her idea of paradise (“no sand!”) and the game’s technician, who is only ever the unseen Voice (Mary Carol Reardon), develops Jess’ answers into a quiet, snow-filled forest. The contrast between the virtual forest and Jess’ real life is supposed to distract her brain enough from the pain so that she can bend and scoop a path through the trees using a virtual shovel. The Voice is only ever interested in Jess’ pain levels on a scale from one to ten, but the game helps Jess with her unquantifiable pain too.

Along with the virtual reality game and lots of talk about seeing and accepting what is real, there is a touch or two of magical realism and more than one heart-breaking moment where someone unexpectedly sees what really matters even if they are blind in other ways.


David Wade’s set design and Jeffrey Small's lighting design smoothly fold several locations into the BPP’s intimate space. My program doesn't give a credit for makeup, but from my seat, Jess' burns looked very realistic. Perhaps they are part of Scott B. Jones' costume design. In any case, this is a well-done production of an uplifting play about human resilience. 

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