As you enter Carolina Actors Studio Theatre to see The Edge of Our Bodies, you pass beneath a mannequin. Shes mounted high above the door frame, dressed in a schoolgirl costume of plaid skirt, ruffled white blouse, navy blazer, white knee socks and black shoes. The temptation to look up her skirt is well nigh irresistible, so you do but all is obscure.
That could serve as a metaphor for Adam Rapps play, where we spend 85 minutes with a young woman dressed almost exactly that way: Bernadette (Lauren Otis), a 16-year-old junior who has briefly left her New England boarding school. (One other character, a handyman played by Sean Kimbro, appears briefly to speak a few lines.)
Bernadette, recently impregnated by her 19-year-old boyfriend from New York, heads down on the train to inform him. There are four vignettes: She recounts that journey to us, she meets the boys cancer-riddled father, she goes to a hotel room with a man she meets in a bar, she returns home and decides whether to have an abortion.
And though Otis takes us smoothly through the characters moods, I came away feeling I didnt know Bernadette and Bernadette didnt know herself. That may be Rapps point, but its a slender one.
Rapp frequently refers to Jean Genets dark play The Maids, which was based on a grisly incident where two French sisters murdered their employer and her daughter in 1933. Bernadette is trying out for her boarding school production of it (unlikely, even at mythical Whitney Academy); she suddenly quotes from the play at intervals and hears a recorded excerpt on a radio.
I cant imagine Rapp wants to carry Genets points about sadomasochism and the class structure into Edge. Bernadette likes to role-play, as Genets maids do. So perhaps Rapp is telling us that going too far beyond our own skins the literal edges of our bodies can lead to disaster, as it does for at least one character.
Rapps real spiritual father is not Genet but J.D. Salinger. Like a Salinger character, Bernadette shares physical details with inexhaustible precision, reveals herself almost exclusively by interactions with others, erects a façade at which the story slowly chips away and departs in mystery. (She quits the stage as if passing out of the purgatory room in Steambath to face God.)
With rare exceptions, I have always found Salingers protagonists arid and artificial, and Bernadette left much the same impression on me. Thats no reflection on Otis range or skill, or on Michael Simmons direction of her. I did wish a program note had made clear, as the script does, that the action takes place in the black box theater where Whitney Academy is about to produce The Maids.
Rapp will turn 44 during the run of this play, the age of the man he so cruelly mocks in that hotel room. I couldnt help but wonder if Edge is an attempt to recapture feelings he himself had almost 30 years ago, when he was in a Wisconsin prep school. If so, perhaps they remain a bit of a blur to him, as they did to me.