There's a moment at the beginning of Studio Theatre's production of rising British playwright Sam Holcroft's enthralling Edgar & Annabel when the audience is asking itself if what's being seen is to be believed.
It doesn't take too long for the answer to be delivered, as a hodgepodge of events explain how Edgar and Annabel are living a lie in an effort to do what's best for their country. Everything from undercover agents to surveillance algorithms to explosive karaoke are thrown into the story mix to create one of the most interesting and convoluted plays to come along in years.
Director Holly Twyford helped tweak the language of the script to make it more appealing to those on this side of the pond for this U.S. premiere and creates a very deft and exciting story, though there are times that you have to just dispend disbelief and go with the flow.
Take the scene where the supposed Edgar and Annabel (they are really Nick and Marianne) host a private karaoke night for their friends, but in a twist out of this year's hit TV show The Americans, hidden behind the songs are details about a secret mission about building a bomb, drowned out from supposed prying ears by the tunes. Bonnie Tyler probably never imagined "Total Eclipse of the Heart" being used for this purpose, but it works.
As Nick, aka Edgar, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh brings a bemusing, mysterious nature to the role, and when he first encounters his "wife," Marianne (otherwise known as Annabel), upon walking in for dinner, it's clear that the two are meeting for the first time, yet must act as if love is in the air. If you were unsure of this, it's made pretty clear from the prepared script from which they are reading. They know someone is listening, and they are trained in the system well enough to make their fake life plausible. This accounts for one hilarious discussion over what's for dinner.
Emily Kester does a fabulous job as the convincingly loving wife, being the actress Marianne/Annabel needs to be to convince others, and above all, to prove to her "husband" that she is loyal and devoted. Not unexpectedly, the excitement of the situation causes the couple to have real feelings for each other, and that just adds to the story an additional layer.
Once the relationship starts going according to plan, Edgar and Annabel rendezvous with their boss, Miller, the puppeteer to their scripts and actions. Lisa Hodsoll as the couple's stern handler is a nice contrast to the over-the-top situations happening in the double agents' home. Her solution to solving the couple's "sex" sound problem is a standout scene, and is again, somehow plausable.
Not everything makes sense and Holcroft quickly glances over some plot holes with less-than-stellar explanations, but overall the story is quite enjoyable and takes chances that, for the most part, work.
There are scenes in Edgar & Annabel that will remind people of things they have seen before on TV or in movies, but the play still is so original in so many regards that it will feel new. Edgar & Annabel teaches us not to believe everything we see and hear — especially when karaoke is involved.