The first question I had after watching The Edge of Our Bodies at the Guthrie Wednesday evening was, "Why is this on stage?" Not that I necessarily had a problem with Adam Rapp's script, or the performance of Ali Rose Dachis, or any aspect of the production. No, it was something more fundamental: Does taking this story from the page to the stage add something fundamental to the experience?
It's a question that sometimes claws at the back of my mind, especially when a story set so strongly in one medium moves into a new one that has different expectations and rules. Sometimes, the story becomes liberated and grows in leaps and bounds when reinterpreted, or it becomes something of a mess or just plain boring. (I'm looking at you, Guthrie adaptation of Little House on the Prairie.)
The Edge of Our Bodies is different than that. Rapp wrote it for the stage, as something to be mounted in front of an audience. Yet, it often feels tied down by its core conceit: that we are hearing the journal of young Bernadette as she goes through a particularly strange evening in New York City.
She is 16, a private-school student at some tony New England prep school, and pregnant. She has traveled to the city to let her 19-year-old boyfriend know that she's expecting. She is wracked by morning sickness, and an overwhelming sense of dread about the day. Most of her experiences are drawn from her journal, which she reads from -- in a real test of endurance for all -- seated in a chair for the first part of the play.
The story takes unusual twists along the way, from spending time with her boyfriend's cancer-stricken father to the danger of taking up an older man's offer to come back to his hotel room. Though the story takes these situations into unexpected places, the sense of danger never leaves. You can't forget that this is a young woman all alone on a cold night in the big city, who spends time alone with a guy who quotes Bruce Springsteen's absolutely creepy "I'm on Fire" as some sort of foreplay.
Along the way, we get clues as to where the current Bernadette is -- Jean Genet's The Maids plays a role in this -- both physically and mentally. Rapp has crafted a complex, breathing creation that is, in turn, fully inhabited by Dachis. Alone onstage except for one, short scene, Dachis takes all of the audience's focus and uses it as additional fuel for her performance. Though Bernadette is often low-key -- perhaps unsure of the conflicting emotions bubbling beneath the surface -- Dachis brings out the pain and confusion so central to the little lost girl.
In the end, it's this performance that makes The Edge of Our Bodies worth our time. On the page, Bernadette may have come off as absolutely self-absorbed, not seeing the reality that all of the other characters face, but the performance gives it nuance beyond just the written word. Which, in the end, is one of the reasons why we go to the theater.