How are you trapped, and just how trapped are you? For the characters of Tambo and Bones, the new show at the Kirk Douglas Theater, it’s a challenge that spirals out into areas wider than foreseen, and ricochets back into the unexpected.
Playwright Dave Harris has created an exceptional piece of theater that takes on both history and the future through dialogue, music and technology, real and imagined. Not small stuff. The two characters – Tambo and Bones – have names that place them in the tradition of ‘minstrel shows,’ a concept that one tries to explain to the other. White performers pretended to be black performers (via blackface) to perform black culture for a white audience. Our characters see themselves as stuck in a hyper-artificial space that also feels like ‘Waiting for Godot’ – but as only one is wearing a bowler hat, we can see it’s a reference, not a reflection.
The show is rich with reference, touching on cultural critique and assumptions while quickly climbing a ladder of questions that Tambo and Bones are asking the audience as much as they are asking each other; contentment or ambition? Stability or change? Profit or power? That these two make assumptions about how the other feels or what they think drops another spotlight on human nature – do we really know anyone, even ourselves, as well as we think we do?
In the historic tradition of the minstrel show, the characters of Tambo & Bones work with and around a Master of Ceremonies known as “Mr. Interlocutor,” the befuddled straight man to their foolishness. With no interlocutor onstage, the audience is recruited to the position; if you are comfortable with theater that breaks the fourth wall, you’ll feel quite at home.
There is a twisted reference at the end of the second part (no formal acts here, just scenes-) that foreshadows the end. If you recognize the quote, (that is being deliberately misquoted) you can see the next rung on the ladder is broken, too weak to support the weight of the assumption being placed on it. If you don’t know, then just like Tambo and Bones – you will find out.
Directed by Taylor Reynolds, the production packs a few centuries worth of effort into an astonishingly brisk 90 minutes. W. Tre Davis as Tambo and Tyler Fauntleroy as Bones have the nuanced vocal power and physical comedy talent to sell all the concepts, as rapidly as they reform and reveal themselves. The totally unexpected X1 and X2, played by Tim Kopacz and Alexander Neher, respectively, both convince us of their reality as well.
Are you trapped? How can you tell? Maybe this is just the show to see and explore the question.
Tambo & Bones
Kirk Douglas Theater
Through May 29, 2022