Fringe doesn’t have to mean "frayed." Gliding on the smooth, cool surfaces of what must be the 2009 festival’s most elaborate set — a hand-me-down from a past Ensemble Theatre production, but never mind, it works — The Edge is a beautifully measured, well-polished character study that should enrich the whole fabric of the this year’s Fringe.
Actor Amy Warner and director Michael Evan Haney lead a company of local pros in this cliffside debate between an English mother, Hannah, and her semi-grown, semi-communicative daughter, Lark — a role danced, not spoken, by a vivacious and brave young talent, Karen Wissel.
As conceived by British playwright David Pownall, The Edge is an intense parent-child conversation in which one of the parties speaks only through movement. Thus, half of this “dialogue” depends on the expressive creativity of Wissel and the show’s choreographer, CCM’s Judith Mikita, as well as Warner’s skill at “listening” and responding to the alternately aggressive, subtle and playful cues coming from her nonverbal scene partner. It’s a fascinating interplay, though at moments during Friday’s first showing one or both players dropped the thread, leaving us in less-interesting monologue territory.
Why won’t Lark talk to her mother? Is she unable? Is she just pissed off? We learn that Lark’s father was a poet, but that Hannah pressured him to abandon his art in pursuit of a more lucrative career in publicity. A dark tower of moveable type looms over the scene, suggestive of the man’s lost literary soul, and Lark occasionally, recklessly, climbs it. Maybe she’s decided that Hannah doesn’t deserve words anymore. Sympathetic as we are (those of us who are mothers, anyway) to Hannah’s maternal frustration, we also see, in Warner’s unflinching portrayal, a woman who might have lost her claim on a daughter’s affection.
When Hannah finally earns some sign of that love’s return, the play’s graceful rhythm halts, and for about 10 exquisite seconds, we see what this relationship once was. Director Haney unites the women in the danger zone down-center, and Warner makes one of those simple actions — slowly, quietly smelling Wissel’s hair — that speak volumes to an audience.
Suddenly we wonder: Is Lark dead? We are on a cliff, after all, the kind of place a grieving parent might return to for a ritual communication. And Wissel is wearing white.
Like any finely crafted short piece, The Edge takes us to the precipice, shows us all the possibilities and then steps back to let each viewer decide when and where the imagination might leap.
Performed at Ensemble Theatre through June 5. See performance dates and preview here.