Entries in Burying the Bones (1)

Thursday
Oct102013

Courtesy of FroPhoto.comPast Haunts Present When Burying the Bones

In a haunting production with potent performances, In Tandem Theatre opens the 2013-2014 season featuring Burying the Bones. Playwright M.E.H. Lewis grips with ghosts from 1990 when South Africa suffered with Apartheid, a policy that allowed kiffirs, black South Africans, to disappear without warming or ever knowing their whereabouts.

The African National Congress (ANC), a group organized to fight against Apartheid’s racial prejudice, began holding hearings delving into these mysterious deaths after 1990, when the organization’s prisoners could ask for amnesty if they told the truth and related how the treatment and torture rampant from 1960-1990 could be justified. As the audience and world realizes, the truth can have varying perspectives, hidden with those buried bones of those who died.

In many of Lewis’s award winning plays, she combines the personal and political history of her characters to riveting effect. Burying the Bones continues this tradition when a young wife, Mae, searches for the answers to why her schoolteacher husband James disappeared in a Range Rover on an afternoon almost two years ago. She believes he is still alive. Her sister Cassandra warns Mae to leave well enough alone, move forward, and then figuratively bury James’s bones. However, James haunts Mae almost every night, begging her to find the answers to his death.

A commanding cast handles this sensitive material with professional ease and evocative clarity. Former Milwaukee Rep intern Malkia Stampley delicately inhabits Mae, her personal betrayals fully compounded by the complexities in South African politics, and what she believed about those closest to her, her family.

Bria Cloyd’s Cassandra weaves her own magic into this saucy, shaman role, a disposed nurse who becomes “a comforter” to the prisoners asking for amnesty. One prisoner richly created by Mark Corkin plays Afrikaner Gideon, a high-level police lieutenant that committed atrocities and murders in the service of his country during the years the ANC was banned. Was Gideon brainwashed or can he be held accountable? What truths does he hide, know or reveal?

As James, University of Wisconsin Theater student Di'Monte Henning entrances the audience and wife Mae with a passionate presence. An apparition his wife meets in bed almost every night or who survives the hands of Gideon when he is arrested. Director Chris Flieller creates ample anxiety and tension in these scenes mining the deeper meaning in place of the mere theatricality. 

To enhance the dramatic production, Scenic designer Steve Barnes together with Lighting Designer Holly Bloomquist fashion a bed that revolves in supernatural moments or place shadows of the interrogators on the backstage wall, these ominous creatures looming over the defendants they prosecute, including Gideon. The evening embodies a surreal quality, especially during scenes describing and using the wet rag technique inferring “what’s buried should stay buried,” as the truth unravels with the unsuspected facts.

When the two sisters, Cassandra and Mae, older and younger, struggle with their political philosophies and how to love each other, the truth eventually “belongs to living.” In the aftermath of these indescribable tragedies, what does a family, a culture, a country do with the uncovered truths? What does and will the audience do with these uncomfortable revelations about how the world values human life the audience sees in the past and present too frequently? Those transfixed in their seats certainly discover what they’re looking for, great, soul-searching theater. In Tandem presents monumental ideals on the intimate stage fraught with disturbing and perplexing questions to haunt the audience long after experiencing this needs to be seen, compelling production.

 In Tandem Theatre presents Burying the Bones at the Tenth Street Theatre through October 27. For information or tickets, please call 414.271.1371 or click the link to the left.     By Peggy Sue Dunigan