We gave it a C+
Genre: Play, Drama; Starring: Mamie Gummer; Writer: Lindsey Ferrentino; Director: Patricia McGregor; Opening Date: Oct. 13, 2015
When Mamie Gummer made her Off Broadway debut 10 years ago in the wacko fantasy Mr. Marmalade, she wore a tutu and a tiara, channeling a precocious 4-year-old with a perverted imaginary friend. Since then, she’s played her share of rosy-cheeked ingénues both on stage — the corruptible Cécile in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the tart-tongued Celimene in The School for Lies — and off, a faux-naive lawyer on television’s The Good Wife. Now, in Ugly Lies the Bone Off Broadway at Roundabout Underground, she’s been rewarded with the kind of role most actors wait their whole careers for: Jess, a soldier struggling to readjust to hometown life and her now-disfigured face and body. And wait, there’s more. She’s undergoing virtual reality game therapy to help manage the pain caused by the third-degree burns that envelop her.
With the aid of startlingly-realistic prosthetics, Gummer is completely transformed: arm affixed to her side, standing ramrod straight, head locked in a permanent tilt, contorting her body everywhere Jess’ skin grafts limit her motion and cause her blistering pain. And while the actress might appear delicate, Gummer radiates resilience; this is a girl who could get struck by an IED, spend 14 months in a hospital, and come out swinging. Jess does, in fact, take a few swings at Kelvin (Haynes Thigpen), the unemployed-and-proud-of-it guy her sister, Kacie (Karron Graves), met online.
Unfortunately, Jess’ real life, holed up with Kacie, a clichéd caretaker character, in a depressed town on Florida’s Space Coast, turns out to be far less compelling to the audience than her virtual one. There’s not much point to Kelvin, other than perhaps to get Jess to throw a punch, nor to Stevie (Chris Stack), her old boyfriend who’s now married and working in a gas station. Also, are we really expected to believe a onetime Army gunner is mooning over a guy selling hot dogs in a Santa hat?
And there’s only so far you can go in an animated wintry wonderland projected onto a giant white sheet. As Jess says after making her way through a computer-generated snowstorm, “That’s it?” Playwright Lindsey Ferrentino has given us a unique heroine, a female war veteran, and a fascinating real-life-based premise. Virtual reality? Show us more! Yet just as we start to fully visualize Jess’ simulated world, Ferrentino pulls back the curtain. And that’s it. C+