By Adam Rapp; Directed by Jacqueline Stone
Produced by TUTA Theatre
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 4.22.18
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 4.12.18
Carolyn Molloy in The Edge of Our Bodies. Photo by Anthony LaPenna.
BOTTOM LINE: Adam Rapp’s play is driven by an exquisite text and has a remarkable actor in the passenger seat.
What do literary fiction and theatre have in common? Well, story—clearly. But when the difference is not apparent enough in live theatre, I start to wonder why I’m not at home in my jammies with a hot cup of tea. Adam Rapp’s play The Edge of Our Bodies is beautiful. The text is exquisite and breathtaking, but it’s recited by a 16-year-old character named Bernadette (Carolyn Molloy) who appears to be reading out of her journal. The Edge of Our Bodies is essentially a live reading of a really good short story, the kind one might find in The New Yorker. So why inconvenience an actress as talented as Molloy to read it to us? Just hand out the journal and pour the tea.
Bernadette has taken an unauthorized leave from her Connecticut boarding school to travel into New York to tell her older boyfriend that she is pregnant. In lieu of tracking down and confronting her elusive beau, she ends up spending time with his depressed father and a stranger named Marc—“with a c not a k.”
Molloy is compelling, achieving theatre magic when she describes her encounter involving Marc-with-a-c. Her adolescent interpretation of a middle-aged man who would hit on a kid is so active that for a moment I forgot that the show is primarily a solo performance. In that scene, I felt as though I were watching two actors, and suddenly understood why Rapp felt the need to express this story as a piece of theatre. Unfortunately, this scene is the third movement of the play, and by then...
Director Jacqueline Stone is clearly a force of inspiration for her creative team. She gets a first-rate performance out of Molloy, and a stellar set and lighting design from Martin Andrew and Keith Parham, respectively. In the small black box, a thin curtain is draped around the circular playing space. When the lights come on, the curtain is revealed to be nothing more than a veil, behind which most of the show is performed, softening and glorifying the performer. For the final section, the veil is stripped away and we see the character as she really is—sans theatre magic and romance. The effect is illuminating as Molloy, stripped of artifice, finally appears emotionally bare.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed the experience that Stone and her designers created, I left the play with many questions. Where did the play take place? What was that curtain? But the answers can only be found in Rapp’s stage directions: “The Blackbox Theater at Whitney Academy, a prep school in the northeast. The set of Genet’s The Maids. A small platform stage that appears to be floating in darkness.” Although there isn't much of a visual evocation of Genet, Stone and her designers definitely champion the hardest part of Rapp’s description: the stage indeed appears to be “floating in darkness."
Despite my criticism, Rapp remains one of my favorite contemporary playwrights. The writing in The Edge of Our Bodies, like that in all his plays, is never self-indulgent or ostentatious, shedding just enough light to illuminate what he wants us to notice behind a thin veil. Whatever problems his characters face, they are selfless enough to understand that they are not the only ones hurting. I guess that’s the truth that keeps me coming back to the theatre of Adam Rapp.
(The Edge of Our Bodies plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through April 22, 2018. The running time is 1 hour 25 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30; and Sundays at 2:30. Tickets are $25 and are available at 59e59.org or by calling 212-279-4200.)
The Edge of Our Bodies is by Adam Rapp. Directed by Jacqueline Stone. Set Design by Martin Andrew. Costume Design by Branimira Ivanova. Lighting Design by Keith Parham. Sound Design by Joe Court. Props Design by Letitia Guillaud. Stage Manager is Andrew C. Donnelly.
The cast is Carolyn Molloy and Robert James Hickey.