Stage Review: Edmond

Mamet sets a cursed antihero on a quest.

A sampler of David Mamet's signature themes—race, class, and gender frictions—1982's Edmond is a lean one-act fugue about a man who, in his search for authentic connection, gets conned, fleeced, beaten up, humiliated, and otherwise rebuffed by most of the people he meets. Prompted by a fortune reading that says "You are not where you belong," the cursed antihero embarks on a quest that arcs across a dozen locations, from a comfortable but wrong place to an uncomfortable but unexpectedly right one. Set logistics can overwhelm such a story, but in Balagan Theatre's production, the actors' engagement is so intense that a table made of two boards lying across two cylinders readily becomes a dining room, fortune teller's parlor, police station, jail cell, bedroom, pawn shop, street corner, and restaurant. The psychological landscape is smoothly suggested by mostly abstract projections on two video screens. Neither offering much nor demanding much, the screens are a harmless presence—much as people on the street are harmless presences until, like Edmond, they snap.By situating the live action in the round, director/set designer Paul Budraitis withholds as much as he offers (since our sightlines are almost always partially obscured). This effectively conveys Edmond's experience of exclusion and affront, as does Tom Wisely's lighting, alternately too dim and too bright for comfort. The production's sound—mostly subdued, inter-scene, atonal twanging—likewise cues us into a state of low-grade discontent. People like to classify this play as being about race or madness or alienation or latent homosexuality, but to its credit Balagan offers the most open, most encompassing reading possible.Sam Hagen, in the title role, is the perfect straight man with a loosening screw. As his encounters with the city's underbelly get increasingly bizarre, he is like an understated alien trying to master the conventions of a different planet.The other actors are never completely out of view. They rise into character and sink back into the primordial human bog of the front row. They announce stage directions, and even adjust Edmond's bruise makeup.Among the many strong supporting players, standouts include Colleen Carey as Edmond's wife. I couldn't see her face during the scene in which Edmond leaves her, but her body and voice, even while mouthing Mamet's formal speech structures, seemed electrified. In another scene, when she visits Edmond, her finely articulated face passes from resignation to horror over a hundred tiny, seemingly cellular-level increments of change. As Glenna the waitress, Carolyn Marie Monroe combines earthy languor with the coils to spring. And Ryan Fields' Prisoner growls, roars, purrs, and muses, flipping tones on a dime. Fields renders the most controversial, criticized, and potentially problematic moment of the script wholly plausible.

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