Sticks and Bones is one of several plays playwright David Rabe wrote about the Vietnam War and its effect on those who fought in it. In this play, a black comedy/drama, Rabe focuses on David, a physically blind veteran who has returned home to his morally blind family. He is alienated from them because he has changed and they cannot understand or accept him and what he has experienced. The tensions surrounding David reveal problems with each member of the family. Rabe emphasizes the denial common to many Americans who were stateside during the war by parodying an archetypical American family. Some of the characters' names come from a popular television sitcom family of the 1950s and 1960s, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Rabe uses many varied writing styles, ideas, and symbols in the play. Critics were divided over the play, Rabe's writing, and its effectiveness.
A Vietnam veteran himself, Rabe wrote Sticks and Bones while he was a graduate student at Villanova University in the late 1960s. The play made its debut there in 1969. After the off-Broadway success of another Vietnam play of Rabe's, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel in early 1971, Sticks and Bones also opened off Broadway at the Florence Sutro Anspacher Theatre in November of 1971. Sticks and Bones later transferred to Broadway's John Golden Theatre in 1972 and ran for a total of 366 performances. The play won numerous accolades, including the Elizabeth Hull-Kate Warriner Award from the Dramatists Guild in 1971, the 1972 Antoinette Perry Award (Tony Award) for best play, and the Outer Critics Circle Award.
Act I Summary
Sticks and Bones opens with a slide show of family pictures. The offstage voices of an adult couple explain who are in the slides to the voices of children.
The scene moves to a home headed by parents Ozzie and Harriet. By phone, Ozzie learns that the government is sending their elder son David home from serving in the war in Vietnam. The family is excited by the prospect. Ozzie and Harriet share memories, some negative, about David. Ozzie also discusses his experiences in World War II, justifying his non-combative role to his younger son Rick; though Ozzie was not a soldier, he played an important role building war vehicles.
A Sergeant Major delivers the now-blind David to his family. The family is uneasy about David's disability and appearance. David is also uncomfortable and wants to leave. The sergeant will not let David come with him. He has other soldiers to deliver to their families. After the sergeant exits, David remains upset. As his parents look for something to calm him down, the Asian Girl appears in the doorway. Harriet cannot see her and slams the door shut on her.
Later that night, the Asian Girl enters when Ozzie opens the door to check on a noise. He also cannot see her. Harriet knocks on David's bedroom door, insisting that he had called her. Harriet talks at David without listening to him. When she leaves, the Asian Girl enters. David can sense her presence.
During the afternoon, Ozzie tries to watch television, but the sound does not work. His attempts to fix it are interrupted by Harriet. She is worried about David, who has been uncommunicative. David comes downstairs and mentions an old friend of Ozzie's, Hank Grenweller. After sharing memories of him, David contradicts what Ozzie remembers about Hank. Harriet enters and changes the subject. She and Ozzie ask David about his talking in his sleep. David tells them that he was not asleep but speaking to a presence he felt in the room. Ozzie becomes angry when David talks about the Asian Girl. His parents call her names. To make an ill Harriet feel better, Ozzie suggests that David ask her to make him food. When Harriet suggests they go to church, David goes to his room, not eating anything.
Despite Ozzie's disapproval, Harriet decides to ask Father Donald to talk to David about the Asian Girl. Rick comes home and his parents immediately brighten up. They return to superficial conversation. As Rick becomes...
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