One Four One Collective logs a melancholic ‘Bone Cage’

The indie company brings the Governor General Award-winning play to Parkdale’s Assembly Theatre

What: Bone Cage
Where: The Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen St. W.
When: Now, until Sat., May 20
Highlight: Kaitlin Race’s grounded performance as the pragmatic Chicky
Rating: NNN (out of 5)
Why you should go: The melancholic production, helmed by first-time director Cass Van Wyck, does impressive work of transforming the Assembly into a seedy Nova Scotian backwoods.

CATHERINE BANKS’S BONE CAGE IS A JAGGED, multifaceted thing. Dreary but lively, painful but playful, it’s easy to see why it picked up the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama back in 2008.

This past weekend, ambitious young theatre company One Four One Collective opened its take on the challenging piece at Parkdale’s Assembly Theatre, a venue so indie you have to go backstage to use the washroom. The melancholic production, helmed by first-time director Cass Van Wyck, does impressive work to transform the Assembly into a seedy Nova Scotian backwoods.

The heart of Bone Cage is 22-year-old Jamie (Daniel Reale), a depressed man stuck in a laborious logging job. The play’s narrative is scattered, but its anchoring event is Jamie’s upcoming marriage to upbeat high-schooler Krista (Jessi Elgood). Also key are Jamie’s pragmatic half-sister Chicky (Kaitlin Race) and hotheaded work buddy Kevin (Cooper Bilton).

Pencil Kit Productions and Nightwood Theatre’s recent I love the smell of gasoline examined the double-edged nature of the Albertan oil industry: how everyone knows it’s bad for the environment but multitudes of Canadians count on it for survival. Something similar is at play in Bone Cage: Jamie, and pretty much every young person in town, wants out of the logging industry, but their families are so reliant on the money they make that abandoning their jobs is out of the question. They are, as the title puts it, caged.

The show features a lovely entourage of up-and-coming actors. Though Jamie is most often seen whining, Reale finds levity in the darkness by bringing an all-Canadian hockey boy vibe to the role; it’s earthy, compelling work. And Race is especially brilliant: the utter groundedness of her Chicky provides a much-needed respite from the other characters’ neuroses.

The design conjures a creeping melancholy. Though the Assembly is a fairly limited space, set designer JB Nelles transforms it completely: woodchips scatter the floor, wall drawings of tree rings metaphorize ageing, and a wooden deck handily transforms into a picnic table when needed. Chin Palipane’s frosty lighting sets the gloomy tone from the top, and Zach Parsons’ addictingly busy sound design adds a surprising sense of propulsion to the proceedings.

While Van Wyck is adept at conjuring a general atmosphere, the specifics of Bone Cage’s world occasionally feel hazy. Perhaps due to the space’s limitations, locations are not always established as clearly as they might be. And the show’s casting makes it somewhat difficult to figure out the characters’ exact relationships: it’s not immediately clear, for instance, that Chicky and Jamie are older than Kevin and Krista.

But this is a show about tree bark — a little roughness is perfectly expected, welcome even. The pulsing heart of Bone Cage is still more than intact, and it’s a wonderful showcase for this troupe of young artists.