The New Group's revival of the 1971 Sticks and Bones packs a punch, and then some. From the first minutes of David Rabe's Vietnam-era play, you get the impression that this ordinary family isn't as ordinary as they may seem. Tension, turmoil, and disruption soon take hold of the family's quaint home and don't let up for hours. Although the story at times can feel uneven and longwinded, on the whole it begs important questions about what happens to a nuclear family when its oldest child returns from war.
Director Scott Elliott does a wonderful job in staging the show, complete with an array of familiar faces, with Richard Chamberlain, Bill Pullman, and Holly Hunter at the top. The play opens with a shot of the three of them huddled together on the couch of this cramped space, forced to grapple with the predicament that's about to unfold. Pullman and Hunter play Ozzie and Harriet, the mother and father who have grown distant from one another over time, though it can't be ascertained when and how this drifting began. What's clear, however, is that they are no longer in sync or in touch with how to cope with new realities and difficult news.
What's familiar and comfortable for them soon becomes unfamiliar and uncomfortable. The couple tries desperately, along with their younger son, Rick (Raviv Ullman), to maintain the status quo inside their home while everything changes around them. Both the costume design from Susan Hilferty and set design by Derek McLane fit perfectly to send the message that this family has it all together. Beneath the picture-perfect framework, though, it all quickly begins to unravel, when David (Ben Schnetzer) returns from war both blind and troubled by what he had experienced overseas.
David is haunted by a woman he left behind in the same way that this family becomes haunted by David's presence upstairs, made prominent by McLane's design to situate David's room in plain sight and in earshot of the action down below. You can't see the drama unfold without having David in the background. It's a constant reminder that nothing can truly ever be the same again, no matter how hard some of them try. Denial isn't a strong enough drug.
The first half is full of intrigue, leaving the audience desperate to see how this family can resolve its issues that remain repressed. Unfortunately, the second half doesn't quite deliver on its promise, opening up more cans of worms that are even more disturbing. Admittedly, the story's unpredictable nature is a welcome change. But there's still something unsatisfying about seeing the effects of war in full color and only getting select signs of peace on the horizon.