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Be careful of the curtains, we are told, as we enter the small theater space at 59E59 Theaters. It’s unclear why, but we oblige, and carefully maneuver to our seat in order to take in the space that has been so meticulously designed by Martin Andrew (Southern Rep’s The Norman Conquests) for this TUTA Theatre production. The thrust acting space for The Edge of Our Bodies is enclosed by a thin black curtain, a fabric so fine that we can see right through into what appears to be some sort of tranquility den, with a old reel-tape sound system and a sofa that reminds me of a Freudian therapy couch. There’s a great animal rug snarling out at us, and numerous lights hung with a modern flair projected a seriously somber mood and a tense air. All of it makes therapeutic and internal emotional sense, telling us a tale all on its own, created with a flare for the dynamic by lighting designer Keith Parham (2ST’s Man from Nebraska). The sporadic placement of the light fixtures illuminate like numerous electric synapses pinpointing her rapid thoughts and heightened passions. The music and reverberations piped in, with sound design by Joe Court (Emerald City) and props by Letitia Guillaud (TUTA’s Gentle) pulsate, playing the soundtrack of her mind, rewinding and recording when necessary. It’s vibrant and engaging, this creation, pulling us into the edgy recesses of her mind, throwing light and darkness on the all the inner workings and cravings of this lost young woman.
“Where are we?“, we ask, being as lost as she turns out to be, but the answer evades us throughout. A chill of anxiety hangs in the air and a complex twinge of nervousness becomes attached to our bodies. A young woman, Bernadette, shadows the space that is a room, looking around, but for what remains unclear. Dressed in a trench coat and a private school uniform, courtesy of costume designer Branimira Ivanova, the atmosphere hangs heavy and the energy electric with an edge that radiates beyond the confines of her body and the draped space.
Playwright Adam Rapp, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of numerous plays including ART’s Nocturne and PH’s Essential Self-Defense, holds the premise of this coming-of-age story close to his breast, not giving us much instruction as to how to take this tale in or where to place it. Carolyn Molloy (USA’s ‘Sirens‘) wonderfully intricate in her performance, gives us very little cues as she moves into her story, inhabiting this 16 year old teenage with every nervous and anxious fiber that exists on the edge of her body. Her voice transforming her personal entry into something dynamic. Bernadette, as directed fearlessly by Jacqueline Stone (TUTA’s The Silent Language) with movement directed by Aileen McGroddy (TUTA’s Music Hall), is privileged and determined, a young private school girl and woman, mature in many ways beyond her years, but as desperate as any teenage girl would be for love and attention. She tells us a tale that is etched with need and confusion, lying to others, but hopefully not to us. She ventures into New York City on a train ride from school, recounting the details in length, hoping to find some comfort and salvation in the arms and eyes of her equally young distant boyfriend.
It’s a compelling tale, that borders on the mundane at times, recreating and recounting every moment down to its most insignificant minutia, as if we were her living diary. Molloy somehow, quite mysteriously, keeps at least a few strong fibers of connection going at all times, compelling us forward into the unknown. Is she trapped in this space, confined by her own doing, or there because of another? Or is it both at the same time, clamoring for prominence? Is this a story of abduction? Or are we being given some sort of abstract invitation into her head, literally, to bare witness to the struggle of her uncertainty and teenage yearnings? At one point a man, played by the earthy Robert James Hickey (TV movie ‘Shady Pines‘) enters in, jolting us out of our introspection and casting a few more questions over the procedure as the light blares down on us. It definitely snaps out out of the lull, but doesn’t quite help us in our ponderings. Theories spin around our heads, colliding together in the air above her. I can’t say I was mesmerized or so thoroughly engaged that I cared that desperately about her in the end, but I was intrigued and curious throughout. The last image is beautiful, but as abstract as the whole. The maintenance man, at least, got to touch the fabric that separated the sad desperate young girl from all of us, moving it away so, in some way, we could see her more clearly. It didn’t really help overall, but it also didn’t hurt either. She remains as intriguing, mysterious, and ultimately confusing as any young teenage girl generally is.