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edge staff writer


‘Ugly Lies the Bone’ brings VR from screen to stage

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BANGOR – Something remarkable is taking shape at the Bangor Opera House.

Penobscot Theatre Company is mounting its latest production – “Ugly Lies the Bone,” written by Lindsey Ferrentino and directed by PTC Artistic Director Bari Newport – starting this weekend and running through April 1. It is a show that promises to be unlike anything PTC has ever done – and unlike anything many area theatergoers have ever seen.

(Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this piece is a member of the cast of this production.)

One of the joys of this job is the opportunity it affords me to bring my personal experiences to the page in ways that I’ve always found to be immensely rewarding. I’m able to shine a light on some of the things that really matter to me.

Take the theater, for instance. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the scene in this area for two decades now. And when I’ve been involved with a show where some aspect has particularly inspired me, I’ve written about it.

I definitely need to write about “Ugly Lies the Bone.”

Sometimes, when you’re inside a show, you aren’t aware of all the moving parts around you. You can’t necessarily see the forest for the trees. Then, when you actually DO get a glimpse of some of those parts, you’re floored by the reminder of what can happen when talented, passionate people come together in a common cause.

“Ugly Lies the Bone” is the story of a woman named Jess (played by Rachel Burttram), a soldier injured while deployed in the Middle East. She is damaged, both physically and emotionally. One of the ways in which that damage is being mitigated is by way of virtual reality therapy.

And this show lets you see that therapy just as Jess does.

A virtual world has been created, thanks to the joint efforts of game designer Chuck Carter and Husson University professor Brave Williams – a world of sweeping vistas and snow-covered trees that is projected onto the set for the audience to experience just as Jess does. She dons her VR goggles and enters this artificially-constructed environment … and so does the audience. You will see what she sees as she makes her way through this artificially-constructed environment.

It really is remarkable.

But one doesn’t create immersion with images alone. Scenic designer Tricia Hobbs, lighting designer Scout Hough and sound designer Katie Guzzi have all worked tirelessly to contribute their own key pieces to the puzzle, building a rich, vivid, multi-dimensional experience that is as unique and technically ambitious as anything we’ve seen from PTC.

(As an aside, while this story has focused on the VR/projection aspects, the special makeup effects created by Kevin Koski are amazing in their own right. You’ll understand when you see.)

Being in the show, there were a lot of moments I hadn’t seen. There are plenty I still haven’t seen. But this past weekend – tech weekend – I had the opportunity to sit in the front row and directly experience some of the exquisite moments that this team has created on that stage. Some are big and bombastic, others are small and subtle … but all of them are breathtaking.

The technical elements of a production always present their own set of challenges; “Ugly Lies the Bone” is no exception. And this added layer of sophistication presents unique issues – issues that the PTC production team has been hard at work overcoming. It isn’t always easy, but as they say, if it was easy, everyone would do it.

Bringing the notion of virtual reality therapy to the stage is a fascinating idea, one beautifully conceptualized by Ferrentino. However, taking such a notion from the page to the stage is a massive step – one taken boldly by Newport and company. VR as a technology is still in its infancy, but this story explores the breadth of its possibilities in a very real, visceral way.

“Ugly Lies the Bone” is far more than just its technical aspects, of course – it is a moving, funny story of hope in the face of adversity. There’s a beautiful interplay of darkness and light that moves throughout the narrative. It features brilliant writing and a lead performance that will almost certainly captivate you completely and utterly.

Chances to experience something new are rare. This is one that is worth embracing.

(Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of “Ugly Lies the Bone” runs from March 15 – April 1 at the Bangor Opera House. For tickets or more information, contact the PTC box office at 942-3333 or visit the PTC website at

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