Edgewise at Walkerspace

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We don’t see plays that often, though 2010 is turning into somewhat of an exception. We typically go to see a friend perform. Last night, we went to see a friend of a friend (not sure we’d go to see a friend of a friend of a friend though).

Edgewise is a play written by Eliza Clark, directed by Trip Cullman and co-produced by PAGE 73 and The Play Company. It is being presented at Walkerspace.

I showed up knowing nothing about the play. Any expectations I had were more due to preconceived notions that kick in when one (or is it just me?) sees some off-Broadway spaces and sets. Before getting into some details, I am thrilled to report that I overwhelmingly liked the play and was extremely impressed by the actors (all of them) and the set, lighting and effects!

There are quite a number of reviews online already (the play officially opened the night before we saw it), reviewed by the AP, The New York Times, with the AP review being picked up widely (Yahoo!, ABC, etc.). Not a single bad review that I could spot, with the AP review quite positive. The New York Times review got it wrong (IMO), which is par for the course in my opinion.

If you want a professional review (rather than one of a rank amateur, me), read this instead of the rest of this post.

The play unfolds through the eyes of three teenagers who work in a fast food restaurant. Often, we (my wife and I) get annoyed at the gratuitous use of cursing (notably the overuse of the F-bomb). Last night, I cringed for the first minute and then realized that if the language had been sanitized, we would hardly be privy to the real conversations that are happening in every teenage-filled fast food restaurant in America. In other words, the dialog became incredibly authentic and integral to the story, very quickly.

What at first appears to be another telling of teen angst quickly switches gears. Something is very wrong in America and it is our job to piece it together through the eyes of these same angst-ridden teens. We’re told just enough to be able to draw quite a wide variety of opinions. The one thing that isn’t in doubt, it’s hellish existence out there on a number of levels.

There’s nothing absurd about the possibility of this becoming a reality in the not-too-distant future here. Just read the Twitter streams of ultra-{both wings}-doomsayers. Even the (supposed) absurdity of showing up to work at a fast food restaurant, or stopping in the drive-through for a burger, amidst the turmoil, is actually a well-placed setting for dealing with the inevitable absurdities in any new and difficult reality.

Rather than leave it 100% to our imaginations (are these pot-smoking teens simply fantasizing about what’s going on out there?), a creative set and terrific effects make the outside reality all too clear. Two additional characters are introduced to show the difference between theory/philosophy and the choices that must be made when faced with a specific situation.

The acting was excellent so I’d like to take the time to say a bit about each one, in the order that they appeared:

Tobias Segal as Marco. Tobias (Toby) was pitch-perfect in each scene. Of all the actors, he was called upon to display the widest range of emotions. His transformations were effective, believable and in the end, even devastating. He plays the shy, love-struck teen as well as he does the pushed-to-the-limit combatant.

Philip Ettinger as Ruckus. Philip had the most lines and was the vehicle for giving us glimpses as to what might be happening outside. His transformation from stoner/loser to in charge was much subtler than Marco’s character, but they were effective nonetheless. Philip needed to have us believe that someone who was stoned a minute ago was now making the toughest decisions of his life. One way that the playwright, director and most importantly Philip accomplished that is by layering what might have been paranoia into the transition until the story unfolds. I was impressed on all accounts.

Aja Naomi King as Emma. Another stellar performance. Aja had a difficult role (IMO). Not only did she have to transform as events unfolded, she had to convincingly show a different character to Ruckus and Marco in the same scene. Reacting to Ruckus one second with a steely resolve, then pivoting and showing a vulnerable side to Marco is tricky. Of the five actors, I wouldn’t be surprised if some in the audience felt that some of Aja’s lines were overacted, but I think she did a superb job of walking an extremely difficult line. She has one big scene where most of the dialog is hers and she completely nails it in my opinion.

Alfredo Narciso as Louis. Wow! I feel like anything else I say will detract from that one word, but here goes anyway. Alfredo might have delivered the best acting performance I’ve ever seen live. Given that 95% of it is delivered in a chair, making it all facial expressions and vocal modulations, is all the more impressive to me. He’s the mystery man in the show, a role that can easily be overplayed. I can’t imagine a better performance for his role.

Brandon Dirden as Paul. Brandon is the last to arrive on the scene but his role is critical to furthering the story. While he’s on stage less than the rest, he too does a wonderful job.

As I noted above, the set is very creative. The effects are excellent if a little overwhelming at times (loud, bright, but exactly to the point).

Of all the actors above, I suspect it’s not an accident that only Alfredo has his own website. I recommend that the others do as well, even if the site does nothing more than link to their IMDB pages. Stake out a home on the net for people to easily find you. I know we’ll be hearing a lot more about each and every one of you!

Finally, a hearty thanks to our friend who suggested we attend this show. It’s running through December 4th, and I recommend that anyone who wants to be challenged to think about the kinds of choices we might make if the world were to fracture just a bit more.

Here’s a photo Lois took of Toby and Philip after the show. We also got to tell Brandon what a great job he did. I wish I had told Alfredo how awesome he was when he walked right by me, but I didn’t react quickly enough.

TobiasSegalPhilipEttinger