Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 2, 2016

The Emperor of the Moon & Ugly Lies the Bone

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
Moon through Aug., 20; Bone through Aug. 28, 2016
by Shera Cohen

Not so coincidentally, Shakespeare & Company (S&Co.) presents a story about playwright Aphra Behn as well as a play by Aphra Behn. Never heard of her? Neither did I. Apparently, Behn was a famous prolific woman writer in her day – her day being the mid-17th century. Behn, who moonlighted as a spy, was noted as being one of the few people of her sex on the Who’s Who list in 1650 England.

Photo by Ava G. Lindenmaier
Behn penned “The Emperor of the Moon,” currently staged under the Rose Footprint Tent as a world premiere adaptation by Jenna Ware. A large ensemble troupe of student actors (any age – you’re never too old to appreciate acting) run about, speak loudly (no mics), sing, dance, wear ridiculous costumes, double and triple role, and have a super time mounting this comedy.

“Oh, just students,” you, the reader and/or future audience member, say. True, but S&Co. pupils are masters at Elizabethan language, physical comedy, and clowning. I would stack most of the lot up to the skills of Equity actors.

The set is solely three doors. This same stage and set is the home of all S&Co. student productions. What can be done with three doors? A lot! Add the theatre’s aisles, tent-high beams, and the field of grass, and not much more is needed to please all-age members of the audience.

Photo by Ava G. Lindenmaier
“Ugly Lies the Bone,” produced simultaneously as “Emperor” at the Bernstein Theatre, could not be more different than the earth to (well) the moon. Prepare for drama with a capital “D.” A returning wounded veteran – it is central to know the soldier is female – replaces her past life with excruciating pain, disfigurement, adjustment, rebellion, loneliness, and surprisingly even hope.

Christianna Nelson dives deep into the character of the veteran. She becomes Jess on all levels of being – physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Nelson gives a brave performance. It is hard to imagine any other actress being more passionate.

“Bone” is not a fun play, although there are many laughs coming from the characters of the two men. It is, however, a contemporary work with great importance.

Note that both plays are one act.