Cutting on the EDGE

Lisa B. hits the ground running as Terri, wielding a riding crop and clad in a dominatrix's cat suit that fits like a second skin. She's brash, funny, self-assured, and dynamic to watch -- up to a point. Similar to the way that Hwang's script hammers us over the head with his multilayered metaphors about race and sex long after we've gotten the message, Lisa B. runs through an arsenal of gestures and stage struts, then winds herself up and does it all again. The script allows her to break out of dominatrix mode several times, particularly when shifting gears from one role to the next. Here she has the opportunity to deepen our understanding of Terri by providing a glimpse of the real person behind the "trained professional," as the woman describes herself. Unfortunately the actress opts for whining during these moments so that the Terri behind the mask seems more a spoiled adolescent than a working woman.

Like the good submissive that he portrays, Robert T. alternately cowers in the shadow of Terri's abuse or whines along with her. The actor does attempt to bring some dignity to the one-act's closing speeches, through which Hwang tries, unsuccessfully, to infuse the work with high-art purpose. But he can't seem to transcend Hwang's preachy writing.

At first the bondage outfits and masks work as a powerful metaphor for the fear of intimacy, but by the end the costumes morph into a distraction. As the show finally concludes with pretentious soliloquies about the coming millennium and self-important lines spoken by Mark, such as "Inside this costume lives the experiences of all the ethnic races that haven't been born yet," I found myself going AWOL, interested more in how Lisa B. and Robert T. were keeping themselves from suffocating inside those hoods than by the actual resolution of the work.

To wrap up the night, EDGE resurrects a 1970 set piece by A.R. Gurney, Jr., that, at least in the way it is directed and acted, seems just one rung above the Love, American Style television humor of that era. The Problem opens with a wife (Natasha Tsakos) telling her husband (Castellanos) that she is pregnant. Since the couple has not made love in three years, the announcement raises a few questions. Trying to explain and rationalize the situation, they contradict themselves; they try to top one another with ever more convoluted tales of infidelity. How far, Gurney seems to be wondering, will a suburban couple go to transcend their inhibitions when the love flame goes out on the Kenmore stove?

Dean's direction puts more of a campy spin on Gurney than the playwright usually receives, and this is not an entirely wrong-headed approach. In the long run, however, the insistently tongue-in-cheek portrayals he elicits from Tsakos and Castellanos dampen the sense that they are real people engaging in what, for them is, risky behavior.

To seal the fault line in their middle-class relationship, the husband and wife indulge in role playing and fantasy. In a nice bit of irony, Castellano's borderline-offensive imitation of a black man who the husband claims is the wife's lover recalls the stereotyping Hwang is attempting to skewer in Bondage. There's also a less satisfying connection between the two productions: As if echoing the acting in Bondage, the actors in The Problem are locked into an unvarying pattern of responding to one another without enough complexity to hold our interest. The results are one-note caricatures, lacking in subtlety and suggesting no comprehension of the intricacies of marriage.

In providing an outlet for local writers and directors, in hoisting world premiere scripts onto the stage, and in paying homage to the work of noncommercial authors, EDGE/Theatre's intentions are extremely admirable. But good intentions alone do not produce captivating theater, as evidenced by the company's disappointing current offerings.

The Subway.
Written by Chuck McMahon; with Teo Castellanos.

Written by David Henry Hwang; with Lisa B. and Robert T.

The Problem.
Written by A. R. Gurney, Jr.; with Teo Castellanos and Natasha Tsakos.

All directed by Kevin Dean.

January 3 through 19. For information call 531-6083 or see "Calendar Listings.

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