Talking Bones

Rated 2.0 Cranky old Ruth hears the voices almost constantly, murmuring through a dysfunctional hearing aide. Daughter Bay Bay—worried, at 40, that it’s almost too late for her to get away and become the celebrity writer and movie star she longs to be—tries not to hear the voices but can’t quite tune them out. Granddaughter Eila hears the voices in seizure-like episodes; the action on stage stops, and Eila is bathed in red light during these scenes.

Playwright Shay Youngblood tosses two wild cards into the script: a scruffy errand boy named Oz, who delivers flowers and gets caught up in matriarchal mysticism on which he hasn’t bargained, and the smooth con man Mr. Fine, who romances Bay Bay with a scheme to demolish the bookstore and build a nightclub.

Youngblood grabs opportunities to backlight her dialogue by invoking the names of as many African-American intellectuals and artists as possible. A brief inventory of the bedraggled bookshop’s wares becomes a rather moving paean to cultural pride. Young Eila makes “literary soup”—boiling printed matter to make a soul-enriching broth.

It’s easy to see why Celebration Arts wanted to stage this play. One only wishes that the company had staged it a little better. Too many scenes get stuck on awkward pauses or ragged transitions, a number of lines are bobbled, the sound system generates ghostly pickup of voices and music from a radio station, and several surprises in the storyline fail to sparkle as they’re presented on stage. Actresses Anya Medearis, Madres Story and Jean Hooks (as Ruth, Bay Bay and Eila respectively) are appealing and develop some good scenes but are too close together in age to be believable as three generations of a family.

Still, this little show has its moments, including some funny exchanges as Mr. Fine and Bay Bay misunderstand each other’s meaning while surrendering to the pleasures of the flesh. Devotees of African-American drama will want to check out this production; others might want to wait until Celebrations Arts comes up with a better-executed effort.