Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Bonez blends all of the elements of classic gothic horror with the experience and perspective of Black men living in modern America. The play begins with Trey (Keith A. Wallace) preparing his posh new apartment for a night of beers and bones–a regional nickname for dominoes–with his buddies Derek (Elijah Jones), Remello (Eric Robinson Jr.), and PJ (John Clarence Stewart). Not long after the game begins, a strange banging sounds from the apartment next door. When the drinks and conversation begin to flow freely, the banging gets more intense. As the stakes get higher, the audience begins to suspect that a simple night of fun was never exactly what Trey had in mind.
Broadnax's riveting script wrestles with masculinity, intimacy, and childhood trauma. A true horror story right to the core, Bonez reveals how these issues distort the souls of men into the uncanny demons of violence and fear. Wallace, Jones, Robinson Jr., and Stewart bring the play to life with fierce and frightening urgency. The edge of panic that occasionally waivers into Wallace's academic attitude instantly creates a sense of unease. While Robinson Jr. brings a harshness to Remello, it feels almost uncomfortably authentic. The entire ensemble deliver on both the play's insightful dialogue and its frighteningly unexpected twists and turns.
The set design by Michael Carnahan is effective, but imperfect. Trey's apartment feels flat, but the city skyline looming behind a large balcony window gives an impressive sense of height and depth. That perspective, along with Nic J. Vincent's lighting design and Lee Taylor projections, creates some intensely scary moments.
I do not want to say too much about how the whole ghastly affair is resolved, but because so many horror stories disappoint at the finish it seems important to acknowledge that Broadnax gets this ending right. Yes, there is bravery in the face of violence, strength in unity, and catharsis in the verbalization of long-suppressed mental anguish. But generational trauma runs deep and the ghosts that have haunted our souls for centuries will not be exorcised easily. That truth alone is more than enough to fear.
Bonez runs through October 15, 2023, People's Light, Steinbright Stage, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern PA. For tickets and information, please visit peopleslight.org or call the box office at 610-644-3500.