The Edge of Our Bodies

Penknife Productions present 'The Edge of Our Bodies' by Adam Rapp.

Penknife Productions present 'The Edge of Our Bodies' by Adam Rapp.

Bernadette believes she can make herself smaller. With her journal in hand she (Lauren Farrell) boards a train to New York in her school uniform and raincoat and ponders the possibility of invisibility. We quickly learn from her journal recitation that there exists an adverse condition among the general American public known as ‘middle aged ass-less-ness,’ that her mother is depressed, her father is having an affair, that she is sixteen, alone and pregnant. Our sympathy for Bernie, however, grows slowly as her ostensibly conceited and privileged prep-school narcissism is gradually peeled back to reveal (much to our discomfort) the gravity of her teenage turmoil.

In this one-person piece, but for the brief and rather dubious arrival of a very serious looking maintenance man near the end of the play (Charlie Hughes), we are transported by the redolent and fiercely poetic language of Adam Rapp’s writing to the darkest corners of Bernie’s seemingly ill-fated life spread over a couple of days – her encounters with strangers, the longing for her boyfriend’s affection, and the occurrence of death and loss towards the end of her emotionally arduous journey.

The opening of the piece offers a static montage as Bernie, an aspiring fiction writer, sits under a dimly-lit chandelier and reads aloud from her diary, barely lifting her eyes from its handwritten pages as she leafs her way through. Her presence before us is, as a result, small indeed, if not nearly invisible amid the pieces of elegant antique furniture – but, for Rapp’s remarkably arresting and vivid narrative, we bear with her.

She sits and reads, and stands and reads, and leans and reads, until finally she sheds the handheld chronicle to allow us a more effective engagement with the theatrical elements of the monologue. She becomes at once less of the uniformed and monotonic medium for some stunningly descriptive prose, and more of the character herself about whom it seemed she was merely reading before. In her tartan skirt and white knee socks, Farrell is credibly adolescent and unnervingly licentious (for the equivalent of a transition-year level student) in her approach in particular to sex, if her encounter with a stranger with herpes named Marc-with-a-C (whose name is actually Richard) is anything to go by. What quickly emerges is an eloquent account of a lonely and pitiable girl who is as desperate for the main part in a school play as she is for long-term security with her nineteen-year-old self-obsessed boyfriend, Michael.

At moments, the general motionlessness of the play is gratefully ceased (equally, it seems by Farrell, who takes on these moments with a touch of reprieve) as she plays out, with exaggeratedly tragic liberty as Claire, various passages from Jean Genet’s The Maids. As she tells us how she and Marc/Richard (the stranger whose hug she describes as the best thing to have happened her in weeks) enter a hotel lobby after meeting in a bar, she breaks into the opening scene of Genet’s play with all the stagey melodramatic anger she can muster: “Those gloves! Those eternal gloves!” she proclaims, arm outstretched, “I’ve told you time and again to leave them in the kitchen.” It is here that the features of the stationary set take on a more transiently befitting role, but as swiftly as she becomes Claire, her reality suddenly restores itself and she is drinking scotch (that tastes like an old tweed coat, she tells us), revealing her breasts to the man she just met and admitting to us how she seeks comfort in his unbroken eye contact and doughy half nudity.

Although the relevance of Genet’s The Maids to The Edge of our Bodies is not immediately telling, Rapp’s splicing of the play-within-a-play enables us to witness a range of twice-removed emotions, including the more sadistic side to Bernadette as she channels these through the character of Claire. Rapp’s reference to the play throughout also heightens the sense of artifice around what unfolds before us on stage. First, the stage on which we find Bernadette is the set of a different play. It is clear that she is longing to play a part – the writer, the actor, Claire, Solange, Madame, or the character she has so elaborately constructed in her journal, or herself played out on stage. Whoever she is, she exists, it seems, because she has an audience.

This is the kind of play that is held together by a series of small successful moments: when its vividness of detail is relayed by an audience-focussed Farrell; or when its pace slows enough to make the hands of a dying man seem like the most profoundly metaphysical things in the world; when an unassuming audience member falls victim to Bernie’s steely-eyed interrogative stare as she almost climbs over the front row into the pews; or when a silvery snowfall appears in the balcony arches of the backdrop’s high stone walls.

Jimmy Fay’s direction is dexterous and accounts for the success of a lot of these memorable moments, and Rapp’s writing keeps our imagination brimming with opaque imagery and purple metaphors (“a face like a fat sick baby” is the first to come to mind). While Farrell keeps its delivery rousing wherever possible, this 70 minute monologue keeps us probing for a point. Is it a demonstration of the time-honoured truth that certain experiences change the person we are, or make us grow up faster than we should? Or is it that certain bad decisions may or may not have consequences? Or is the point that there is no point, that “when you get right down to it, there is nothing?” as Bernie tells us. Despite its moments of ephemeral aesthetic beauty, this play hardly penetrates and leaves you to wonder whether there is an edge to it at all.

Jennifer Lee holds an MPhil in Theatre and Performance and is currently completing her PhD thesis.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Edge of Our Bodies by Adam Rapp

1 - 6 April 2013

Produced by Penknife Productions
In Smock Alley Theatre (Boys School)

Directed by Jimmy Fay

Sound and Lighting: Jimmy Fay

With: Lauren Farrell and Charlie Hughes