09 November 2011

The Edge of Our Bodies

We went to the Guthrie the other night to see a production of Adam Rapp’s play “The Edge of our Bodies.” For all but five minutes there is only one character on the stageBernadettea sixteen-year-old preparatory school student traveling from Connecticut to New York on the railroad to tell her boy friend that she is pregnant. Alone on stage, she narrates a series of encounters she engages in with older men on her journey, some to whom she speaks and some about whom she speculates, and one whom she even accompanies to his hotel room. There, she narrates a rather kinky sexual encounter that leaves her untouched but fully participatory. In fact, she describes each of her encounters in explicit and polished detail. But as she goes on it becomes clear that it is the attention of the men to Bernadette that sits at the center of each narration: as one would expect from a sixteen-year old, Bernadette imagines that everyone either thinks about her, or desires her, or has designs on her. It is her physical allure that attracts these men to her. Bernadette imagines the world with her at the center of the consciousness of others.
But, in fact, we aren’t certain whether any thing that she narrates occurred in fact, or if the entire plot is all a product of Bernadette’s imagination and her narration a reading/enactment of a short story she has written based in the dreamy fantasies of a sixteen-year-old white middle class adolescent. She aspires, she tells us, to be a writer. Indeed, the play actually begins with Bernadette reading to the audience for almost twenty minutes out of her journal in which she has recorded her journey. But the narration is in the present tense!! I early in the performance early that she was speaking her story in which she is the protagonist and the action enacts her fantasies. It is very possible that the entire play is Bernadette’s fiction! Furthermore, “The Edges of our Bodies” takes place on the setting for a stage production of Jean Genet’s “The Maids,” a school play in which Bernadette has been cast as lead (of course) and which she periodically and quite dramatically enacts during her monologue. I don’t know Genet’s work very well, but I have learned that “The Maids” concerns illusion. Histrionic is the hallmark of her story: every fantasy (and fear) an adolescent sixteen year old girl can imagine occurs to Bernadette, though she is never physically threatened or financially troubled. But these dangers would not be part of her romantic fantasies. Her story is, in fact, a cliché, though very credible.  
Ostensibly, the play narrates the crisis of her pregnancy and events that follow from it that impels a sixteen-year-old girl into adulthood. But in fact, the events narrated are those about which many white, middle class sixteen-year-old girls obsess.  This play gives voice to the romanticized drama of an adolescent. This is a one-character play. All of the ‘action’ occurs in Bernadette’s narration: there are no other characters with whom to interact: this is all Bernadette’s story. The action of this drama concerns the critical events in Bernadette’s present. Thus, her truancy, her pregnancy and break-up with the child’s father, the meeting with a series of men, her rather graphic fantasy of sex with one of the older men, and the story of her abortion are the stereotypical events that would sit centrally in the consciousness of a sixteen year old. The play becomes her short story. And the actress for this performance, Ali Rose Dachis, played the part as a sixteen year old. She is the sixteen-year girl in appearance, intonation and affectation. Bernadette’s imagery is overblown and somewhat clichéd, as one might expect from a romantic sensibility. Thus: the theme of the play involves the life of a sixteen year old girl, the voice of the play is that of a sixteen year old, the rhythms of speech are those of a sixteen year old, and the events are told from the perspective of a sixteen year old girl. Yet, the production itself is intended for an adult audience. There were two children in the theater that evening and one of them was my daughter! Adam Rapp, the playwright, has a reputation as a writer of young adult fiction; this play is a young adult drama. And except for Bernadette’s explicit description of fantasy sex with an (older) man whom she meets in a bar, there is nothing in this play that wouldn’t play fairly well in a serious theater company intended for the performance of young adult drama. But I think that his play is not at all meant for adults except as some interesting portrayal of the clichéd fantasies of white, middle class privileged sixteen-year-old adolescent girls.
Or the play could appeal to those who would appreciate a wonderful acting performance.


Post a Comment

<< Home