Eddi, the hero of Bone Dry a.k.a. The Copy Editor Murders, is a copy editor of book manuscripts who just finished six months of spec work only to have her client fold its shutters without paying her. Her dad just died. The bills are piling up, and she's swamped with work. She has, in other words, seen better days. How does this make for a murder story? Well, it does and it doesn't. This challenging, unconventional, and sometimes off-putting drama has a surprisingly narrow goal: depicting the desperate alienation of the skilled anonymous freelancer in the information age.
Director Bain Boehlke has designed a moody, claustrophobic set, visually anchored by a set of desks. One belongs to Eddi (Carolyn Pool), the other to her live-in boyfriend Oscar (Shad Cooper). Eddi's is stacked high with computer equipment, reams of paper, clippings, and manuscripts--the sundry detritus of the home office, in all its anxiety-producing glory. Above is a sky that changes to reflect the time of day; the effect is crucial, because in Barry Browning's frequently sublime lighting design the stage is never completely lit. Much of Paula Cizmar's script is based on reiterating Eddi's problems (after a time she flirts with success, but we don't really find out where it leads). Interspersed with the action are monologues and dreamlike sequences in which Eddi toys with J. (Phil Kilbourne), leading him through abstract canyons while he cajoles her into accepting new work assignments. Turns out J. is Mr. Fixit, a national sensation who depends on Eddi to ghost-write his advice columns. Kilbourne is rather underutilized in the role, which compels him to wander about confusedly while croaking Eddi's name in desperation.
Cooper plays Oscar as a dude's dude with a fixation on the internet. He and Pool capture the brittle energy of a decent relationship turning sour with Eddi's deepening distance, and they frequently locate a light comedic edge. Wendy Lehr fares worse as crackpot neighbor Crystal, an unnecessary element of comic relief in a work that already suffers from a meandering pace. Bone Dry is a work that chews up and spits out dramatic modes. At times it feels like a domestic comedy, at others like a contemporary drama, and for a stretch an arty meditation on the alienation of labor. By the time the show is an hour old, it is apparent that it isn't interested in genre convention, or even paying indirect homage to convention by exploding it. Instead, it uses tone and mood to put across what is, ultimately, a very simple story with a quite muted resolution. The only murders take place in Eddi's mind, which is of course the crucial terrain. Eddi's a wordsmith so profoundly alienated from herself that she's moved to declare at one point, "I don't have anything to say, I just know how to say it." She makes her living shaping words and ideas for other people, a content provider filling the vacuum in contemporary culture.
Pool puts across a sense of intelligence and verbal adroitness while capturing the strangulated despair of someone stuck in the molasses of a troubled life. By the end, there's even something resembling a happy ending. The main problem with the work is that it's fueled on mood rather than drama, and it suffers from a number of dead stretches. The show feels at times like a one-act script spread out over two, a sensation not helped by the strained, tacked-on quality of the "murders" and the fact that almost nothing of major consequence really happens. Whatever its shortcomings, though (and they are numerous), this production rises--when it does--on the frequently moving work of the actors. Content providers, it seems, have found their Long Day's Journey into Night. Book doctors everywhere have found their vindication, for someone has staged the tedious poetry of their lives.