The Edge of the Our Bodies is less a play than a monologue, like a New Yorker fiction story read aloud. For an uninterrupted 80 minutes, Bernadette (Lexi Langs), a 16-year-old woman who ceased being a girl a long time ago, will share a few days of her life while sitting, standing, leaning, smoking, dancing, and disrobing. She’ll do all this on a two-tiered spherical Mosaic Theatre stage sparsely adorned with anachronistic Victorian furniture that makes sense only if you do some homework about this play. It’s an abstract space, doubling as the train cars, subways, homes, bars, and cheap hotels that our character, fleeing her Connecticut private school, will frequent in her journey to Manhattan to bring some news to her boyfriend. Far be it from me to spoil this part; if you’ve ever encountered a book, movie, or play in which a female character has “news,” you know what it is.
As a theatrical experiment, it’s a little pretentious, but playwright Adam Rapp can be forgiven — he’s clearly using the familiar solo-theater platform to reach for something postmodern and metaphysical, to disrupt the known with a few jolts of the unknown. And anyway, his words are brilliant enough to permit some obscure stagecraft. Peppered as usual with pleasing cultural references (from Francois Truffaut to Jean Genet to Geek Life), Rapp’s narrative resides in a delicate balance between comedy and tragedy, often within the same scene — like the disquieting showstopper about a 40-something businessman who picks Bernadette up in a bar.
Rapp is a writer’s writer. He tells us everything and shows us nothing, and yet his script is captivating. He has a brilliant ear for original similes (“like I’ve swallowed potting soil”) and vivid diction that will stick with you (hair that sprouts up in “simian tufts,” people who have succumbed to “middle-aged male asslessness”). His description of cancer, in one heartbreaking scene, is deeply poetic and painfully accurate, and his ability to write as a young woman perched at life’s precipice — unable to jump in while simultaneously acting decades beyond her age — is so authentic, it’s hard to believe Rapp didn’t live it.
If it seems like I’m praising the playwright too much, it’s because the actor, Langs, leaves something to be desired. An NYU student pursuing a degree in acting, Langs knows the part, and her physicality is spot-on. But her cadences are off; emphasis is placed on the wrong words, so the lines don’t land the way they should. Tears are effectively shed, but her performance is largely one of rote memorization without capturing the feeling behind the diction. She’s wonderful at the steely-eyed glance, but the emotions beneath it remain elusive.
Part of this responsibility lands on director Margaret Ledford’s shoulders. For long stretches, especially at the beginning, Bernadette reads from her journal in static positions, losing a number of battles against monotony even if the show itself wins the war.