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Edge

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Despite having died at age 30, poet and author Sylvia Plath left a significant body of work behind. But it's not specifically that work that inspired Edge, the new play about Plath's life that just premiered at the DR2 Theatre, but rather the life that produced the work.

In that way, Edge is an often captivating character study, in both writing and performance. In two brief acts, author and director Paul Alexander conducts a journey through the many influential sectors of Plath's life, from her relationship with her cold, perfectionist father and submissive mother to her education abroad and the physically and mentally abusive husband - a poet himself, Ted Hughes - who haunted her work and spirit to her dying day.

And this is her dying day (February 11, 1963) on which Edge take place. Plath, in the form of journal entries, describes the events that have brought her to the brink of despair and suicide. Many of these revolve around Hughes, who becomes more demonic as the evening progresses. (One of the last major revelations about him is that he and his mother were both practitioners of the black magic, fitting given the odd power he exerts over her.) But Plath is constantly battling her own personal demons, and her own expectations and beliefs are as much her enemy as Hughes is.

As each anecdote is heard from her perspective, her analysis is hardly balanced or objective, and that's where Angelica Torn works her own magic. She embodies Plath from the inside out, working feverishly to bring Plath back to life. Though clad in a featureless, almost sexless grey dress (the work of Gabrielle Hamill), Torn's performance is bursting with sexual and artistic passion. She combines Plath's hunger for perfection, her somewhat distorted sense of humor, her often blind pursuit of perfection in all its forms, and her dangerous attraction to the violent Hughes into a rich, full characterization that embraces the senseless contradictions of her personality, her innate drive towards the things that will prove most destructive for her.

Even with Torn's expertly-delivered quips to the audience about her life, Torn can't make much of Edge comic. When Plath faces the darkest, most unpleasant aspects of life head-on, it's with enough dramatic force to be spellbinding. The finest example occurs near the end the first act when, after a suicide attempt, Plath undergoes therapy. By sitting in a chair and moving her hands and head ever so slightly (and with but a small amount of assistance from Joe Leveasseur's lights), she enacts a full, heartwrenching scene in which Plath comes to terms with the anger she has long kept bottled up inside. It's simple in appearance, yet endlessly complex in the technical details, and emotionally devastating.

It's a stunning theatrical moment, and the most exciting in Edge. Whether Torn is drawing the parallels between the nearly-demonic Hughes and her totalitarian father, or whether she must cope with Hughes's infidelities and subsequent soul-searing insults, or even during the climactic clash of wits and personalities that closes the play, her performance is complete in presenting and shading Plath's personality. Torn omits no detail.

Neither does Alexander, whose writing is certainly thorough (unsurprising given his previous experience writing about Plath) and creative interpretation of the events in Plath's life well suited to the stage. He has given his Plath the appropriate penchant for vivid description and innate understanding of her and others' conditions, even though he sometimes loses the battle against the urge of changing Torn's job into professor of Plath 101. His direction is quite strong overall, if restrained, with his most frequently-employed technique to just turn the reins over to Torn and let her do her thing.

With Torn's authoritative performance, that's hardly a bad thing. Whether you're a particular fan of Plath's work - or interested in her life history - Torn makes it all accessible and bewitching, a fine form of poetic tribute Plath's poetry, life, and the pain that drove them both.

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Edge
Through September 20
DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street
Running time: 2 hours including one 15 minute intermission
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge