The Edge of Our Bodies at Washington Ensemble Theatre March 28–April 14

Washington Ensemble Theatre is known for taking on challenging, boundary-pushing work, and its risks have paid off again with the regional premiere of The Edge of Our Bodies. In Adam Rapp’s nearly one-woman play, a 16-year-old prep school girl Bernadette (Samie Spring Detzer) reads aloud from her diary recounting the trip from her school in Connecticut to her boyfriend in Brooklyn. It’s a pretty standard young love: She’s infatuated with her boyfriend’s “perfect chest” and the new things he’s turned her onto like finally changing her mind about the Beatles. Standard except for the surprise pregnancy she plans to share with him and the accompanying apprehension surrounding the reveal. Though the actress rushes some of the first lines, she finds her pace once she puts the diary down and begins a more physical retelling, seamlessly carving out little worlds to occupy on the simple set and easily holding interest while alone onstage.

On the train when a group of older men leer at Bernadette, we first glimpse the razor-sharp wit of this young aspiring writer. She skewers their appearances, describing “simian tufts” of hair and sad ham-like faces as she completely eschews the “allure” of older men. A tightrope walk between Bernadette’s childishness and maturity plays out as she amusingly rejects anything these watchers may be hoping for. Detzer maneuvers this line brilliantly, sometimes planting her feet and piercing the audience with her stare but other times slumping her shoulders and tucking her legs under the revealing clinging remnants of her not-distant childhood.

Adam Rapp, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama (Red Light Winter), crafts lines that flow naturally from a 16-year-old, no matter the topic. While speaking to her boyfriend’s father about his ill health, she actively takes on an advanced tone and reasoning, something she’s perhaps been prepared for but never faced personally. Not that there aren’t other crumbling foundations around her. Her parents’ marriage for one, and now potentially her future plans, which don’t extend much past her school’s rendition of The Maids which she’s auditioned for.  

She returns from the trip with a new knowledge of the messiness of the adult world and a hesitation to fully embrace what she’s found. Her physical trip into it is no more pleasing than her emotional one. It’s captivating to watch Detzer hop between swaying sweetly while remembering simple joys and shaking with rage at the uncertainty lingering around her like the bloated men on the train. The ultimate battle within Bernadette is her desire to be seen and heard and write her own story, and a passive wish to simply vanish. The Edge of Our Bodies ends with strong arguments that she may do either, reveling again in inescapable uncertainty.  

The Edge of Our Bodies
Mar 28–Apr 14, Washington Ensemble Theatre

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