Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Good Bones
Studio Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's recent reviews of Spamalot and Here There Are Blueberries

Cara Ricketts, Joel Ashur, and Johnny Ramey
Photo by Margot Schulman
Washington's Studio Theatre knew that playwright James Ijames was a good bet even before his play Fat Ham received the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The company commissioned Ijames to write the play that became Good Bones shortly before COVID-19 shut down live theatre in the U.S., and the play–now in its world premiere production at Studio's intimate Milton Theatre–is beautifully drawn, both clear-eyed and ultimately optimistic in its examination of community history and gentrification.

While Ijames has set the play in an unnamed U.S. city "that is now too expensive for most people to live," Studio draws some specific parallels with its location in Northwest D.C., near where a former homeless shelter has been converted into luxury condos and vintage rowhouses share space with newly built, anonymous apartment buildings. The playwright's underlying theme is what constitutes a community as new people move into long-established but declining neighborhoods–and, in this case, both the longtime residents and the new arrivals are Black.

Director Psalmayene 24, himself a playwright and actor, demonstrates empathy and fairness to all sides. None of the characters is always "right," accommodations must be made, and (in this case) subtle flashes of the past keep turning up until they make some kind of impact.

Misha Kachman's set brings the audience into the sunny kitchen and dining area of the house that Aisha (Cara Ricketts) and Travis (Joel Ashur) are upgrading: black marble countertops, a kitchen island with exposed storage space, the whole thing. "We wanted a place with a sense of history," pregnant Aisha tells their contractor, Earl (Johnny Ramey), who grew up in the neighborhood. As it turns out, Aisha, now an urban planner, has fought to overcome a childhood in the projects; Travis, an affable chef and new owner of a nearby restaurant, grew up financially secure and can be a bit judgmental about people who may still be struggling.

Ramey gives a luxurious performance, inhabiting Earl's character through rhapsodic accounts of the history of Aisha and Travis' house, once the home of a neighborhood legend and a place where he and other area children spent a lot of time. Ricketts ably demonstrates the struggle between Aisha's past and present experiences, how to assimilate into the community without class snobbishness or lack of empathy, while trying to persuade Travis that his attitudes are not the only correct or appropriate ones. Ashur is confident without being insufferable or unsympathetic, and Deidre Staples sparkles in her scenes as Earl's sister Carmen.

Costume designer Moyenda Kulemeka has created character-defining looks for all four characters, although Aisha's are the most attention-getting. William D'Eugenio's lighting design and Megumi Katayama's sound design add to the often subtle, even subliminal sense that not everything in the house is as it seems.

Good Bones runs through June 18, 2023, at Studio Theatre, Milton Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-332-3300 or visit

By James Ijames
Directed by Psalmayene 24

Aisha: Cara Ricketts
Travis: Joel Ashur
Earl: Johnny Ramey
Carmen: Deidre Staples