“Bone on Bone”: a year in the life of a relationship

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John Little and Wendy Peace in "Bone on Bone" (Andrea Phox Photography)

The play’s title implies the hard and painful operation of something that was once cushioned and easy

The New Jersey Repertory Company opens its 2020 season with the world premiere of Marylou DiPietro’s Bone on Bone, a play about the expectations that arise in a relationship of 35 years, and the conflicts such expectations bring.

John Little and Wendy Peace on stage
John Little and Wendy Peace in “Bone on Bone” (Andrea Phox Photography)

Bone on Bone starts off in the Manhattan apartment of lawyer Johnathan (John Little) and his artist wife Linda (Wendy Peace). After 35 years, Johnathan has grown comfortable with the routines of his life and sees no reason they will ever need to change. Linda, however, has met with an old art school classmate visiting town. He is now a department head at the Rhode Island School of Design and offers her an artist-in-residence position along with a chance to mentor young artists and assist in the creation of major art commissions taken by the school. This, however, would mean her moving to Providence in order to make her career dream come true.

Johnathan is aghast at the thought of moving away from his law firm position and assumes Linda is eager to go to pick up a romantic relationship with her now-married old classmate. He is equally dismissive of any alternative plans and wounded by the thought that he does not take first place in her life. Linda cannot shake Johnathan’s assumptions about her motivations, yet doggedly remains committed to following her own career path. The remainder of the play follows the couple over the next year, wanting to preserve their relationship yet seemingly unable to find a workable compromise. The unspoken questions hang in the air: Who will bend, and who will break because of this impasse?

The play’s title implies the hard and painful operation of something that was once cushioned and easy. Unfortunately, the play and this performance lack that touch of vitriol—that tiny drop of honey-coated acid in one’s voice—that comes out in disagreements between couples no matter how long the relationship has lasted. It seems to be lacking in Ms. DiPietro’s script. Director M. Graham Smith has seemingly called for more politeness, and therefore a softer tone from the cast than is required by the conflict at the heart of this play.

John Little handing flowers to Wendy Peace
John Little and Wendy Peace in “Bone on Bone” (Andrea Phox Photography)

However, the playwright and the director have done a good job of getting from their actor’s solid performances of two people who both fall into the old trap of “knowing” each other’s unspoken thoughts and motivations. John Little shows a man whose comfortable self-centeredness cannot grasp his wife’s need for support of goals that are not in any way his. Wendy Peace walks a fine line in bringing Linda’s burgeoning self-interest into full-fledged, full-throated life. As usual, the NJ Repertory production staff—scenic designer Jessica Parks, lighting designer Jill Nagle, sound designer Merek Royce Press, and costume designer Patricia E. Doherty—contribute their usual high-quality work in the creation of this battling couple’s world.

Bone on Bone just misses. However, there is a mostly solid play here, with decent performances, one that I hope the playwright will continue to work on. It takes on a not-so-unusual topic—a long-term marriage in which the couple is faced with conflicting individual goals. This view of a “year in the life” and its unsettled resolution make this a play that is worth seeing, especially by couples. I suggest making a trip to Long Branch and the New Jersey Repertory Company to see Bone on Bone.

Bone on Bone is presented by the New Jersey Repertory Company at the Lumia Theatre in Long Branch through February 9, 2019. For tickets and information, visit njrep.org.