Bone Portraits: Edison, the X-ray, and Ladies Buying Lead Underwear
Neither Steve Jobs nor antidepressant television ads would exist without Thomas Edison. Edison took the serious science of invention and pumped it full of old-fashioned American hucksterism until it exploded into the capitalist bonanza that it is today. Actor Roy Stanton doesn't look like Thomas Edison—he's tall and skinny and bald—but he's a perfect window into Edison's soul: a smiley, slimy showman who begins banging out a ragtime tune on a piano whenever anyone starts talking about things like ethics.
Bone Portraits is the story of how Edison took Wilhelm Roentgen's discovery, the roentgen ray, and transformed it into the much sexier X-ray (note the mysterious name), a marketing process Edison blithely refers to as "making it American." At the beginning of the 20th century, Americans everywhere took photos of their bones and gawked at things they never thought they'd be able to see. "We live in a time where we know all that there is to know," a woman pants as she wanders around the Chicago World's Fair. Another woman talks about buying lead underwear for modesty's sake.
America's mad rush to embrace the X-ray without understanding its cancerous side effects is fertile ground for metaphor, of course. (Do you seriously think your cell phone isn't going to riddle your brain with tumors?) So it's more than a little odd that Deborah Stein's script chooses to belabor an addiction theme as Edison's assistant—Adam Davis, earnest and handsome—becomes hooked on... looking at the bones of his hand? (Worst dialogue of the play: "What's wrong with your hand?" "I can handle it!")
It's equally odd that Live Girls!, "a theater company dedicated to producing and developing new works by women," is producing a play with such notably weak female leads. All the juicy scenes are devoured by Stanton (whose Edison carries a fried chicken leg in his pocket at all times) and the promising young Jason Franklin, who nearly steals the show as a quietly dismayed Roentgen and a flatulent, moronic vaudevillian. Poor LaChrista Borgers and Shawnmarie Stanton are diminished to support staff by Edison's monumental ego, and the issues that concern their characters—America's obsession with novelty and compulsion to embrace spiritualism—are upstaged by the production's mad rush for entertainment.