nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
July 30, 2008
Edgewise succeeds as an entertaining thriller offering enough suspense and intrigue that I could easily forgive its cinematic ambition. And the talented cast kept me confidently in a theatrical state of mind—as well as an apocalyptic one. The play takes place inside a small drive-thru burger joint during a near-future world war. Three teenage employees show up to start the morning shift, and their day begins like any other American day during World War III; they flirt, fight, make crude jokes and, of course, make burgers.
Playwright Eliza Clark draws teenage characters with precision and remarkable insight—they're raw and hyper-realized. She captures the vibe and rhythms of the post 9/11 generation. Comparisons to Eric Bogosian or Larry Clark quickly come to mind, but her terse teens are far too world-wise and world-weary to partake in the ennui of those writers' curb-kicking kids.
Still Edgewise does follow along the same route as most stories of teenagers in crisis by placing their morality in question. After an air raid nearly levels the burger joint, a bloodied man stumbles through the door and collapses. Ruckus, the frenzied and manipulative manager of the place, is convinced the man is most likely an enemy soldier. He ties him up in a storage room that gradually devolves into a torture chamber.
What is this war? Who is the enemy? We are given bits and pieces of information. Enough to know that horror rages over the Northeast, that the enemy is not easily identified—some are foreign, some are American. The play is never weighted down by expository information—much is thankfully left to our imagination.
So is the injured man an innocent civilian or the enemy? Well, I would never tell, but the suspense leading to the revelation is the pounding heart of this play. There are obvious metaphorical critiques of our current government policies that I'm sure are intended to be thought-provoking, but prove to be incidental by their over-simplification. And if I was supposed to ponder the morality of the teenagers, I never did. They're living in a confusing and violent time, their parents have been enlisted, some of them killed, and bodies are piling up on the side of highways. War is hell.
Of course elemental to the suspense and mystery of this production is the gutsy acting of the entire cast. Jessica Howell playing Emma, the most grounded of the three teens, delivers the standout performance. She evinces the confusion and the sadness of war with subtlety and a charged presence. While director Lila Neugebauer has competently shaped discrete characters, she has failed to compliment the hyper-realism of the language with a style unique to the stage. And the set fastidiously designed and built to look exactly like the interior of a small fast food restaurant is more appropriate as a movie set. It exudes a sense of dullness rather than facilitating a theatrical experience.
I'd be happy to see this story as a film, but I hope we don't lose Eliza Clark to L.A. too soon. Her ability to give authentic voice to contemporary teens is a rare talent. If one considers the dearth of compelling teenage dramas for the stage, the worth and importance of Clark's Edgewise cannot be denied.