Now that the holiday season is over, we can safely put aside the family fare and turn from heartwarming messages of hope to emotional destruction and collapse. Not that Epic Theatre Company was ever going to follow seasonal trends: last month’s RI Premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s dark and twisted Passion Play, as well as the overly disturbing yet wildly humorous Mr. Marmalade, proved that Epic is far more interested in challenging our hearts than warming them. They continue their streak of premieres by bringing Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Adam Rapp’s acclaimed and controversial The Edge of Our Bodies to its studio space at Hope Artiste Village from January 11th through the 19th.
Edge is a one-woman show, but inhabits a world of experience and characters through the eyes of its 16-year-old protagonist, Bernadette, a New England prep school student trapped in a morass of teen pregnancy, exploitation, horrifying encounters, and a burning desire to make her voice heard in a vacuum of attention and affection. In the tradition of films like Kids, and the reality series 16 and Pregnant, Edge challenges parents and peers alike to look closely at the young women near them and wonder what they may actually be going through in their seemingly perfect adolescence.
We find Bernadette narrating from her journal in what may or may not be creative license on her part, but if even half of the stories she relates are true, then this is a young woman in need of help, love, and a large amount of intensive therapy. Director Cassie Alley describes Bernadette as a “16-year-old who has experienced more than most 30-year-olds.” Or has she? The setting of Edge is the set of a school production of Jean Genet’s Absurdist chestnut, The Maids. Why a high school would be presenting a piece of this kind is never explored, but we’re left to decide for ourselves if the darkly destructive urges that inhabit Genet’s play affect Bernadette or were tailor made for her budding sensibilities. Alley’s intent is to focus actress Allison Crews on leading the audience through a rollercoaster of lies and truth. “We should never be quite sure if she’s lying or not … she’s a compulsive liar … but she’s forced into this situation by her parents at a boarding school where she’s living alone and not ready to grow up.” Alley feels that many of today’s teenagers are in similar straits. Oversexualized, overstimulated, and burdened with too much independence, it’s shocking, but sadly not surprising that Bernadette represents something and someone all too real. Edge presents questions of birth control and abortion for minors without preaching, but in a frank way that forces us to admit that these things are happening right now and possibly to people we know and love.
The intimate Zabinski Studio space is ideal for such a chamber piece and Alley’s approach will be to immerse the audience in Bernadette’s narrative through live sound effects and close interaction. “I didn’t want to present an actress reading from a book,” as many previous productions of Edge have done, says Alley. “I want to use the audience as part of the show every night. I want them to go away from this show, and I know it sounds like a cliché, but I really want them to think about this. We may not want to believe these things can happen to a girl like this, but they do … and they are.”
Epic is once again bringing challenging, provocative theater to Rhode Island audiences at a fraction of the budget of the larger theaters. Challenge yourself and see.