Bernadette is an aspiring short story writer who has landed a role in Jean Genet's The Maids at her prep school, and if the story she reads to us from her diary or ledger is true – and reasonably recent – she's a 16-year-old on her way down to New York City to inform her 19-year-old boyfriend Michael that she is pregnant. Family and classmates are unaware of her condition, and Bernadette has bolted from school to track Michael down and face him with her disclosure. The Edge of Our Bodies a fearsome odyssey, to be sure, and if presenting the action in monologue form doesn't exactly maximize the physical perils that Bernadette is braving, Adam Rapp's one-woman format does underscore the teenager's loneliness and isolation. Carolina Actors Studio Theatre director Michael Simmons surrounds lead actress Lauren Otis on three-sides with her audience in a thrust-style staging, further emphasizing Bernadette's vulnerability.
Our protagonist travels lightly and by train, so none of the unseen men she meets on her journey is expecting her. These include a man on the train, somebody at Michael's workplace who tells Bernadette that Michael isn't there and, at Michael's apartment, his cancer-stricken dad. Encased in a rather dorky school uniform, and speaking with a minimum of expression, Bernadette doesn't readily indicate whether she has found her experiences terrifying, infuriating, or amusing. Compounding the difficulty of reading Bernadette is the fact that, so often, she is reading out of her book to us. At times, Rapp and Simmons seem to revel in showing us a Bernadette who breaks wildly free of her stolid, defensive demeanor. Otis lets down her hair and shakes it, and at a bar, Bernadette lets a total stranger pick her up and take her to his hotel room after totally fabricating who she is – tantalizing glimpses of how this proper preppie got into her predicament.
But Bernadette remains an enigma after she returns to school. She hasn't confronted Michael, let alone her parents, with the secret that lurks in her womb, and Bernadette's take-out from her adventures and her future plans are equally nebulous. A few things would be much clearer if Simmons and Otis could solve the riddle of how Bernadette might project more forcefully without cracking her elemental iciness. Upstage and facing the other way, as she works the three sections of the audience, Otis is often unheard in an otherwise riveting performance. Higher volume won't be sufficient, however, to clarify Rapp's recurring ritual of exchanging a pocketknife for a penny or other capricious conundrums strewn in our path – like what our take-out should be. A serious rewrite is necessary to upgrade Rapp's script from an absorbing character to study to a meaningful drama.
The show continues through 6/23. For details, see the sidebar.