“Sixteen’s a great age. What do you wanna be when you grow up?”
The Gate’s 35th anniversary season Who Does She Think She Is? kicks off with Adam Rapp’s The Edge of our Bodies, a (almost) monologue by the 16 year old New England student Bernadette. She’s tired of the dullness of life, the only bright light on the horizon is a starring role in a forthcoming production of Genet’s The Maids, and so she pops off to New York to see her boyfriend Michael instead of attending class. Oh yeah, and she’s just found out she’s pregnant…
What really makes the play pop though is that it is told from the perspective of her journal and the opening section of the play is ‘read’ almost completely from it, a bravura piece of acting from Shannon Tarbet who works so much meaning into the text, the hesitancy of barely recognising her own thoughts written down, the humour in the random remembrances, the emotional rush of a troubled teenage mind no matter how mature she might seem.
As Christopher Haydon’s production progresses, Bernadette moves away from the book to more straight delivery of memory as she recounts her New York night – the dying man she meets, the thrill of not being carded in a bar, the sordid sexual encounter that follows. Tarbet utterly nails the cool, even clinical observational style as Rapp folds her thoughts into dispassionate but pretentious language and it is clear that thought there’s a deep underlying sadness, she’s also loving the drama of it all.
The interplay of her own story and the snippets of The Maids highlight this aspect, the meticulous detail of Lily Arnold’s design playing into the performative side of even the visceral of Bernadette’s episodes with its mirrors allowing her to constantly observe herself. I’m not too sure the startling disruption that comes late on really adds much, personally I’d’ve preferred something more unsettling, but otherwise this is some fiercely uncompromising theatre from a season which promises much.