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Edmond at Atlantic Theatre

The Atlantic Theater Company’s production of David Mamet’s Edmond.

Atlantic Theater Company
10 October 1996

Rasche as Edmond

The Atlantic Theater Company’s production of David Mamet’s Edmond powerfully conveys the loneliness and naïve enthusiasm that compels so many Americans to try to break out of the bounds of their own lives—to create themselves anew at great cost. It is an incredibly sad play, a modern morality play that follows the misguided trajectory of Edmond Burke’s attempt to find his place in society.

A reverberant image that epitomizes the drama occurs at the end (scene 22): Edmond gets up from writing, stretches, and then looks out his window and says, "What a day!" This seemingly commonplace image is powerful because it occurs in Edmond’s prison cell, while he is writing a letter to the mother of the girl he took to a prom decades ago. He has declined to see a visitor that a guard has announced, just as he might have declined to take a phone call in his earlier life as a white-collar worker. And his "office" window no doubt still looks out on towers and squares, sometimes filled with people. This work-day scene is followed by a bed-time scene (23) in which we again see Edmond looking out the window. He then goes to his cellmate, kisses him good night, gets into bed and goes to sleep.

What makes this image of Edmond looking out the window so enduring and meaningful is the result of brilliant theater. Director Clark Greg handles Mamet’s good script wonderfully. He has David Rasche look for a considerable time at the audience out of the imagined window, skillfully "created" by lighting engineer Howard Werner. As if in a two-way mirror, Edmond considers himself while the audience looks to see what they can see of him in themselves. That’s particularly true for the white males in the audience, like me. But everyone sees the "doomed" white male from a vantage point at least as good as one can get at a zoo (scene 15). Mamet’s refusal to flinch at exposing our own relationship to such "doomed" characters is what makes his writing so good and Rache’s acting so resonant.

David Rasche plays Edmond with depth and breadth. But Rasche’s brilliance is not that of a virtuoso running the gamut of emotions and subtleties. In the crucial opening scene between Edmond and the Fortune Teller (Leslie Silva) he fails to capture the humor Mamet sees in such pristine con-artists. Silva, too, doesn’t have much feel for the language and interaction in this scene.

Rasche is excellent, though, in his interaction with two brilliant actors: Maryann Urbano and Mary McCann. He subtly evokes the naiveté and stupidity behind Edmond’s callousness when confronting Urbano’s dumbfounded-then-enraged Wife. Urbano’s clumsy tastelessness and inarticulateness as the Peepshow Girl nicely accentuates Edmond’s stale civility and juvenile desperation; and the actress’s primly self-conscious Woman on Subway outrages Rasche’s by now uncivil openness; finally, it is Urbano’s demoralized Wife, one last time enduring Edmond’s deadly banality, who creates the emotional space that enables Rasche’s way with Edmond’s words. Mamet’s choice of female characters may be considered sexist by some, but Urbano’s range as an actress essentially allows Rasche to believably reveal his lonely and naively enthusiastic Edmond.

Mary McCann’s two roles do not span the length of the play as Urbano’s do, but she forms the quiet dramatic center around which Rasche widens his fractured spinning. In scene four, McCann plays a B-Girl, Edmond’s first potential sex-for-money partner after leaving his wife. As so often in this production, the relationship between the characters is captured in a single unscripted action: Edmond, in trying to understand the arrangements between the B-Girl and the bar, freezes in perplexity, pointing his index finger in the air at waist level; McCann’s B-Girl playfully touches his finger with her index finger, making a contact with Edmond that leads to his renewed effort to pay for sex. This small moment of stage business seamlessly reveals character and social relations, lingering in one’s mind as emblematic of the scene, in this case evoking Edmond’s openness to suggestion, and his desire to be touched.

McCann’s Glenna is the play’s main supporting role, a waitress who is studying acting and the only other character named. Mamet’s perhaps cliched critique of people who consider themselves actors actually mirrors his portrait of Edmond. Just as Edmond feels enlivened by acting out his fantasy roles (here, having earlier beaten up a black pimp), Glenna is enlivened by her acting classes. Furthermore, McCann’s thoughtful portrayal of Glenna slowly reveals her perplexed interest in Edmond at the café and then her diminishing interest in him as he pops the bubble of her self-image as an actor. These internal changes provide the muted but steadying backdrop for Rasche’s out-of-control and increasingly anti-social Edmond.

By the end of the play, Rasche is physically dominant on stage, both because of his fine acting and because of his interplay with Urbano and McCann. In fact, when we first see him with his black cell mate in prison, played by Isiah Whitlock, Jr., we sense that the black prisoner will not finally enable Edmond’s liberation from convention nor his "thirty years of prejudice" (scene 16). The power relation between the two men is, thankfully, underplayed—one man intimidatingly walking toward another (scene 20)—as the actors manifest (act) the exertion of will and the retreat into fear. Nonetheless, the race of the cell mates heightens the stakes of their interaction.

In scene 20, Edmond early on tells his cell mate that "When we fear things I think that we wish for them." If that is true, then the fear that Edmond retreats into is the white, middle-class male’s double fear of blacks and homosexuality. Add to this his hatred of women, as bluntly revealed in scene 16, and Edmond’s story becomes quite complex and cautionary. Edmond opens the final scene (23) quoting Hamlet: "There is a destiny that that shapes our end. . . rough-hew them how we may." What might there be that seemingly controls one’s life? The two men’s discussion recalls the play’s opening scene about predetermination between Edmond and the Fortune-teller, where the latter says: "What we see reflects (more than what is) what is to be." Edmond does not understand this idea, yet he chooses to believe and then act upon the platitudes of the Fortune-teller’s trade: "You are not where you belong. . . . We all like to believe we are special. In your case this is true." Edmond’s white, middle-class, male perspective of the world is sexist, racist, homophobic. Edmond ends with Edmond agreeing with his cell mate: "And what we have done is to disgrace ourselves." The somber ending is a result both of the audience’s and Edmond’s awareness that he did not respect anyone and our awareness of the possibility that Edmond has still not learned anything.

SUNY at Stony Brook