As the audience enters the theater for the performance of Adam Rapp‘s taut The Edge Of Our Bodies (in the Guthrie‘s Dowling Studio, through Nov 20), actor Ali Rose Dachis sits, prim and unmoving, on the edge of a chair. She wears a schoolgirl’s plaid skirt, white knee highs, a frilly blouse (designed by Christine A. Richardson). Although she betrays no outward emotion, she in fact seethes, with passion, anger – with undeniable life force. That Dachis can evoke these powerful emotions while simultaneously maintaining a composed calm is the essence of this assured and compelling performance. Kudos to her director, Benjamin McGovern.
After a half hour of stillness, the play begins. Dachis (as 16 year old Bernadette) opens a notebook filled with cramped and small handwriting, takes a deep breath, then begins to read, describing a trip she took to New York City, walking away from her private school, in search of her boyfriend Michael who has – I don’t think I’m giving away too much here – accidentally impregnated her. Suffering from nausea and lonely terror, Bernadette never finds Michael but she has a series of magical encounters with Wayne, Michael’s dying father, and with Marc, a man she meets at a sleazy bar. That’s as much of the story as I’m going to provide; I don’t wish to ruin the play for you.
Rapp’s writing is lovely. Bernadette’s jottings would never fly as prose fiction, but they masterfully create an intelligent, poised, frightened young woman. The Catcher In The Rye influence is obvious, but Bernadette lacks Holden Caulfield’s bitterness and fake-maturity; she really is mature and much more compelling as a result.
But. I have a reviewer’s obligation to point out that The Edge Of Our Bodies is, essentially, a one-hander. The action is mostly past tense – we hear about Bernadette’s journey, her encounters. There is some present tense action, as Bernadette struggles to maintain her composure, but this doesn’t, in my opinion, sustain the whole play. Why, I kept wondering, aren’t we seeing the wonderful scenes with Wayne, with Marc, et al? I felt frustrated.
There is a brief encounter with the “Maintenance Man”. It’s a nice little scene (Steve Sweere is excellent as he, whistling nonchalantly, removes all the set pieces) but frankly I don’t know where it takes Bernadette; when the man leaves, she simply picks up where she left off, albeit now on a bare stage.
The set (very nicely designed by Michael Hoover and subtly lit by Ryan Connealy) is polished, with roses painted into the wood, french windows, a fancy poof, a chandelier. The arch upper crust setting is at odds with Bernadette’s intense adolescent passion; a nice effect.
Indeed, this is a beautifully done piece of theater. I am sensitive about past tense material but perhaps you are not. If this is the case I would not hesitate to recommend The Edge Of Our Bodies: Ali Rose Dachis’s work is easily worth the admission price. An actor to watch.
For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.