Some people in our lives leave us with marks, both seen and unseen. Merlynn Tong’s play Blue Bones is a poignant exploration of the psychology of domestic violence, relationships and survival.
When Merlynn goes to the doctor, x-rays reveal scars on her bones left by a violent ex-boyfriend she had in her mid-teens. This unearths memories- traumatic memories that she has long fought to repress.
Written and performed by Merlynn Stone, Blue Bones is a personal, often uncomfortably intimate, dissection of a relationship that disintegrates into violence. Merlynn’s performance is captivating and slides effortlessly from brutal, to joyous, upsetting, light and even funny. She exudes honesty, warmth and vulnerability which ensures that the audience sees the situation through her eyes. I cannot conceive of the courage it has taken Merlynn to not only write (the script is genuinely beautiful), but also perform this show and bare her soul and scars before hundreds of people. Acting truthfully is difficult, and acting yourself can add a layer of complexity, insecurity and self-doubt that makes Merlynn’s performance even more remarkable. Further, as a one-woman show Merlynn also plays the other major people in her life, including her abuser. Through her, we capture some understanding of the inner torment that victims of domestic violence experience- the lengths they go to excuse the beloved abuser’s behavior and the self-recriminations they torment themselves with. This however, is in no way a story of self-pity or of a broken person. This is a story of strength, of survival, of coming to terms with the past and of rediscovering yourself and the things you love in life.
The production values of the play are excellent. David Walter’s lighting keeps the focus on Merlynn, but also helps transition through the multitude of times and places Merlynn takes us to. The use of projection with photos of her school, playgrounds, parks and other key places in her life also enables us to more clearly and realistically experience her journey. Paul Malgapo’s fight choreography has a distressing level of realism.
Right at the end of the play, the house lights came up a little earlier than usual. I was momentarily puzzled- and then I saw Merlynn. She was scanning the audience, establishing a connection with individuals and gauging our reactions. In that moment I desperately wanted to compose my face, to give her whatever reaction she wants, but I didn’t know what that was. There seemed to be something in her gaze that was challenging- challenging the audience to look her directly in the eye, or perhaps challenging us to take action in our lives to help ourselves or others. It felt like she had given so much of herself in the performance that we owed her something in return.
Blue Bones is not an easy play to watch- nor should it be. These are aspects of people and society that are unpleasant but important to discuss and this play does so unapologetically. This is an incredibly powerful, disturbing story that is sure to get under your skin and leave you shaken.
Blue Bones will play at the Brisbane Powerhouse’s Visy Theatre until May 13.