The history of the love lost between Kansas and Missouri comes to life in Colleen Enna’s Fringe entry, “Bones Beneath the Sidewalk,” currently playing at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre for the 2019 Fringe.
The historical journey begins with a grandfather (Rickey Peters) telling the family story to his grandson who is visiting from Colorado (Alan Mason). The story is aided by two chorus, one representing Kansas settlers and one chorus of Missouri settlers. They are: Jean Marie Trawicki, Daniel Kapatike, Susan Warshawsky, Tessa Luechtefeld, William Maichel, Marcia Kinwan, Kelly Cady.
“Bleeding Kansas versus Bloody Missouri. Tales of John Brown, Bloody Bill Anderson, plus a former Missouri governor leading Confederates into the Battle of Westport are all described by a grandfather to his grandchild. Kansas and Missouri choruses pipe in – no love lost here. There are bones beneath the sidewalks in Kansas City, according to J.C. Nichols. Civil War soldiers bones that we walk over today.” (KCFringe.org)
The play has a lot of history to cover in the short hour span. Along with that comes the imagery and verse for the Kansas and the Missouri chorus of cast members who read their lines in unison, like a Greek chorus piece. But, this is not a Greek chorus and the idea is lost. Still, the history comes through. The stories of the Battle of Westport, the burning of Lawrence, John Brown’s Osawatomie, Kansas skirmishes, battles in Oceola, Missouri fill the piece with important history to residents along the Kansas-Missouri border. That’s the huge draw of this piece.
The verses give strong images to what was ongoing from1820 through 1865 and explains how and why the two states have continued conflicts since that time. The verse really uncovers lots of history.
The problem with the chorus is that the readers are readers and not actors. Their energy and deliverance do not match each other, so the performance part of their delivery is lost and meaning foggy. This part can be corrected as the shows continue. The history and background provided are solid. The presentation lacks.
To give more substance to the story, the grandfather and grandson weave in the history of their family. The story is lost as it competes with the choruses and their historic accounts. The grandfather tells of his ancestors and their days from slavery to the present. Their story gets lost among the battling choruses. Some of the grandfather’s stories provide the spine of the story of the many deaths associated with Bloody Kansas and Bleeding Missouri. And, the story of J. C. Nichols discovering human and animal bones when creating the rudimentary streets of early Kansas City are indeed interesting.
More stories like that and the African-American families’ struggles would give this piece more depth and continuity. The piece has merit, but needs some hard polish to climb to the next level.
“Bones Beneath the Sidewalk” resembles an in-hand script circle reading more than a production. All of the cast have script in hand giving it an unpolished look and feel. Still, history buffs will love it, and persons who enjoy Civil War Era stories may find new avenues
to explore about Westport, Oceola, Lawrence, Osawatomie and other places so important to Kansas Citians.
Tags: “Bones Beneath the Sidewalk” review, KC Fringe Festival, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre