Adam Rapp’s The Edge of Our Bodies, Theatre Exile's Philly Fringe entry, digs deep into the genesis of a certain type of girl, boarding-schooled in New England, conversant in Plath, Wharton and Donna Tartt, whose disdain for the adults in her life is matched only by their disregard of her. In this almost-monologue (there's a brief, uncredited appearance by Bill Rahill as a maintenance man), 16-year-old Bernadette alternately reads aloud from her journal and splices in scenes from a school production of Jean Genet’s The Maids — in which she, naturally, plays the meek Claire.
And like Claire, Bernadette channels her powerlessness into a nascent sadism that exists only in her own head and on the page. Pregnant, seeking comfort from her older boyfriend, she leaves campus and hops a train from Connecticut to Brooklyn and back. The men she encounters have “simian tufts of hair” creeping from their shirts, and faces “like lunchmeat” or “wet Kleenex.”
Nicole Erb, under Matt Pfeiffer’s direction, channels all the contradictory emotions of a troubled teenage girl, isolated by privilege, yearning for love, empathy-impaired, objectified and objectifying. In plaid kilt and crested blazer, she appears sprung from a Vampire Weekend song: thick chestnut ponytail with sun-kissed highlights, field-hockey calves, pert nose. But Erb fuels Bernadette’s venom with as much sadness as self-assurance; her mocking portrayal of a middle-aged admirer’s Springsteen serenade brims with so much pathos it reveals as much about her as about him.
Rapp wants the audience to be complicit in the making of his monster. Whether she will end up an actress, writer or anti-depressant-popping housewife is anyone’s guess. But surely Bernadette is developing a powerful addiction to manipulating an audience, and the moment she becomes hooked, we are watching.
— Wendy Rosenfield
The Edge of Our Bodies $20-$25, Through Sept. 23, Theatre Exile, Studio X, 1340 S. 13th St.