Jumping Into Adulthood in The Edge of Our Bodies
A play by Adam Rapp makes its New York debut via Chicago's TUTA Theatre.
Bernadette is 16 when her life takes an unexpected turn. The protagonist of Adam Rapp's The Edge of Our Bodies, Bernadette sees everything change with one trip to the bathroom, and then decides to embark on a journey that she knows deep down will not go well.
The Edge of Our Bodies, receiving its New York premiere by Chicago's TUTA Theatre at 59E59 Theaters, is signature Rapp: an aching look at the depth of the human heart, somewhat akin on an emotional level to his best-loved drama, Red Light Winter. However, despite an inventive, looming production directed by Jacqueline Stone and featuring a complex central performance from Carolyn Molloy, the piece itself never stops resembling a short story that Rapp decided to turn into a play but forgot to make theatrical.
What we learn is that Bernadette is in a chic Connecticut prep school, where she's in the throes of auditioning for Jean Genet's The Maids. Around the same time, she discovers that her boyfriend, a 19-year-old Brooklyn barista, has gotten her pregnant. She decides to break the news to Michael in person, hopping on the Metro-North one November day and journeying to the New York City apartment he shares with his father, who is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. Michael, of course, is nowhere to be found, and Bernadette must suddenly face her first major life decision entirely on her own.
In terms of prose, in The Edge of Our Bodies Rapp delivers a beautifully descriptive story whose conceit — Bernadette is a short story writer who is reading to us from her notebook — works against the theatricality Rapp is forcing upon it.
That leaves Stone with trying to find the fireworks in the piece, and, to her credit, the staging is very curious and provocative. Cordoning Molloy off from the audience, The Edge of Our Bodies is performed behind a see-through scrim that almost resembles a womb. Accenting the room in intense reds, Stone — together with lighting designer Keith Parham, scenic designer Martin Andrew, and sound designer Joe Court — has discovered a way to keep us on the edge of our seats as we anticipate every possible wrong turn. Eventually the shield is physically removed, thereby shattering the illusions of childhood and helping Bernadette to realize there's no turning back.
Molloy's canny performance further enhances the ever-present feeling of danger. Dressed in a school uniform (costumed by Branimira Ivanova), Molloy acts out Bernadette's journey with exacting preciseness, infusing the performance with the recognizably desperate desolation and fear that everyone encounters when they realize they'll never be a kid again. The Edge of Our Bodies might not register very well as a play, but Molloy, Stone, and this production find their way into it from the inside out, and create something indelibly human in the process.