Kirk Douglas Theater’s commitment to bringing us powerful plays that involve social and racial issues continues with the production of playwright Dave Harris’ Tambo and Bones. The 90-minute show is nothing if not inventive and immersive, constantly shape-shifting to both unsettle and surprise us.
Separated into three acts, it opens with a landscape reminiscent of vintage children’s television shows — painted buildings, cardboard movable trees, a hanging sun. Here we find vagabonds, Tambo (W. Tré Davis, Hamlet, Orange Is The New Black) and his pal, Bones (Tyler Fauntleroy, Succession, Romeo and Juliet) doing their best to earn a few quarters from the audience, including plying us with made-up sob stories.
“The questions at the heart of the play are constant — What sells? What garners real change? How and why do people with ideological differences remain bound?”
The second act sees a transformation, and the minstrel duo who began in dire straits end up as Hip-Hop superstars, weighed down by heavy bling and unleashing a full-on rap concert that is deftly handled by composer Justin Ellington, sound designer Mikhail Fiksel, and lighting designers, Amith Chandrashaker and Mextly Couzin. The third act transports us into a dystopian future where white people no longer exist, except as two clunky robots — Tim Kopacz (Little Shop Of Horrors, King Lear) and Alexander Neher (Grey’s Anatomy, Lonestar).
Davis and Fauntleroy deliver a robust and unceasingly physical performance. Their use of “minstrel” technique successfully entertains the audience while compelling it to think of the genre’s sinister history. Minstrel shows, you might know, involved whites parodying blacks, and were a staple of old-time American show business; in fact, they are considered to be the first uniquely American form of entertainment. The eponymous Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones, named for the percussion instruments they traditionally played, were staple characters of America’s racist past.
So like the real world, the stage is constantly changing, but the questions at the heart of the play are constant — What sells? What garners real change — power through money, or a scorched earth policy? How and why do people with ideological differences (Tambo truly believes he can change people’s minds, Bones thinks it’s all about the money) remain bound?
— Victor Riobo
Tambo and Bones playing at the Kirk Douglas Theater through May 29th. Tickets HERE.