nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 3, 2005
Runt, a one-man show written and performed by Michael Phillip Edwards, is at once an actor's showcase and a character study of a fascinating and deeply complicated man who is also the actor's father. Edwards—who has real presence and can conjure a complete human being with just a few deft moves—plays many different roles in this narrative, but the one he concentrates on is Ed Edwards, his dad, a Jamaican immigrant who became an enormously successful businessman but was never able to achieve stable loving relationships with his son or, apparently, anyone else.
Mike grew up knowing his father only from a distance. As a very young child, he spent a lot of time with grandparents in Jamaica, waiting for his parents to send for him in America. When he got older, his parents divorced, and so the only time he really spent with the mercurial Ed was on weekends and special occasions. He recalls trips to strange ladies' houses (often pretty blondes), where his father would leave him in the car while he went inside to have a romantic dalliance. And he recounts, rather dispassionately, arguments between his father and himself—one-sided discussions, really, that always seemed to end with dismissive disapproval of the son.
There is one point where a cycle of emotional distance and abuse, from grandfather to father to son, is suggested; but on the whole Edwards is respectful of his dad at the same time that he's critical of him. He certainly isn't interested in making judgments here—just finding a place of understanding that he can carry forward to his own young son, for whom, it appears, this show has, at least in part, been created.
As a result, the portrait of Ed is full-bodied and richly detailed. We see him in repose, or what amounts to repose for a Type A over-achiever, lecturing young Mike about the pursuit of happiness with a succession of women. We see him humbled, or nearly so, as he begs his son to come live with him instead of his mother. And we watch him at work, Jamaican accent reduced to the merest lilt, coping with a problem customer with an aplomb and grace that are elsewhere missing from his life—we marvel with the now-grown Mike at the dual (and dueling) natures of this man who can be so successful at the office and so clueless at home.
There are others included on this odyssey toward secure manhood, most memorably a Jamaican servant who weaves elaborate tales of boogiemen in order to scare young Mike and his siblings into good behavior, and an African American father who the adult Mike encounters on a bus, talking with his son about sex, school, and other pressing subjects in a manner that indicates that the Edwards men are not alone in faltering so clumsily with learning and teaching how to be a Man.
The show, just under an hour long, flies by; Edwards is a commanding, highly skilled actor and storyteller and he holds our interest unflaggingly, sans props, accessories, or special effects. Runt is an interesting glimpse into the relationship of a father and son whose difficulties in connecting with one another are almost certainly shared by many others.