Written by Adam Rapp
Directed by Jacqueline Stone
Popular among UK playwrights, the extended-monologue, or “plovel” approach to storytelling seems to be catching on in America. Essentially the lovechild of a play and a novel, a plovel is a performance piece that is spoken by an actor, but constructed as a work of prose fiction. As the narrator interacts with other characters or travels to different settings, we get a description of the scene, rather than a physical manifestation of it. Even dialogue is handled by one actor playing all the parts, with phrases like “he says” or “I answer” following the lines. Shows that use the plovel technique, of course, offer something very different – and often less satisfying – than multi-actor treatments of the same themes. But a skilled writer can work within the limitations of the idiom, even taking advantage of prose’s ability to easily shift locations and articulate the narrator’s inner thoughts. Trying his hand at this form, playwright Adam Rapp brings his usual flair for creating vibrant characters and probing raw emotions. He is less successful when it comes to choosing a theatrical framework for the show. Elements like a surrealistic set, eerie lighting and brief appearance of an extra character seem designed to give the show a distinctive style, but in the end prove more distracting than thought-provoking.
Performer Carolyn Molloy, who brings charm and honesty to the part, plays 16-year-old Bernadette. Reading though her diary, she talks of her relationship with her boyfriend Michael, her friendship with his father Wayne, who is dying of cancer, of her unexpected pregnancy, her divorcing parents, her adventures in New York and Connecticut, and ultimately of the decisions that will shape her future. Along the way, she begins to understand her place in the life cycle and she compares her vital body to Wayne’s deteriorating one, and to the potential new life within her. It’s familiar territory, but the refreshingly plain and candid tone of the script keeps Bernadette’s story from becoming cliché. There is no stereotypical teen angst or teary life-lesson melodrama here, just an unadorned depiction of the curiosity that enables Bernadette to drink in the details of the world around her, the thrumming libido that leads her into the arms of an older man, the quiet but unflagging drive to become her own woman.
Given the gentle potency of the protagonist’s voice, it’s all the more puzzling that Rapp and director Jacqueline Stone seems so hell-bent on placing obstacles between her and the audience. Martin Andrew’s set, though certainly attractive, sports red lights and a gauze curtain that obscures separates Molloy’s facial expressions. Similarly, the Maintenance Man (Robert James Hickey) stays onstage so briefly we don’t get much of a clue as to what he’s supposed to symbolize. If the idea is to provoke a kind of distanciation effect, it needs to be done with a greater sense of purpose. As it is, these Avant-garde touches feel superfluous, as if someone squirted a blob of Brechti-wip topping on a dish that already has all the flavor it needs. THE EDGE OF OUR BODIES would work fine on a bare stage, and what edge it has comes from the bright, wandering teenaged psyche we see laid bare before us. At heart, it’s a coming of age story, told in straightforward, affecting language. That may not be the newest idea in town, but it works better than its creators seem to trust. Serving it straight would be a stronger choice.
EDGE OF OUR BODIES continues through April 22, 2018 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street between Madison and Park Avenues, New York, New York. Tickets at ticket-central.com