Friday, February 12, 2016

Fringe review: The Edge of Our Bodies

In Theatre Exile's "The Edge of Our Bodies," Nicole Erb captures the misery and malice of a privileged 16-year-old in trouble, and playwright Adam Rapp wants the audience to be complicit, says Wendy Rosenfield..

Fringe review: The Edge of Our Bodies


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.

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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