On the Edge Theatre Company
Igloo, the Theatrical Group
Off-Off Loop Theatre Festival at the Theatre Building
It’s 2067, and as part of the annual convention of the Ministry of Satire, Humor, and Irrigation, we’re going to see a presentation (by the Ministry of Exhibitionism, Performance, and Household Appliances — so much for the New Federalism), explaining how things got the way they are and all about the “social plagues” that paved the way for a halfhearted Armageddon. Explaining, in short, the 80s.
That’s the premise of Edgewise, presented by the improv-based On the Edge Theatre as part of the Off-Off Loop Theatre Festival. It’s all pretty loose and moderately sidesplitting — a series of skits that evoke a time when Ronald McDonald was a religious figure (look at all the ruined temples, they say in 2067) and a nerdy copywriter could become the arbiter of public mediocrity, informing vast multitudes that they’ve never known what they always wanted.
The three plagues to devastate the 80s were of course government, television, and sex (categories large enough to let OTE throw in sketches they’ve had kicking around for some time. Government (represented by a demagogue who runs on a platform that would sound natural coming from a crazy on the Broadway bus) isn’t half as ubiquitous as sex. Both pale before television. Nothing is sacred to the tube: the Marriage of Marie Tyler Braun crushes Fassbinder into sitcom as a vaporously Teutonic Mary bitterly spits out “Life is a sweltering, disease-ridden trough of despair,” while Lou Grant, dead from sheer angst, lies sprawled behind her.
In the 80s the war between the sexes reached the point where a fiancee tests her betrothed by short-answer questions (“Would you still love me if someone cut off my arm?”), and even a simulated combat in which he gets to prove how willingly he’d sacrifice his life for hers. (Not to worry: in 2067 there are no genitalia to fight over, a minor point Edgewise perversely refuses to explain.)
The best spoof here, ridiculing our artistic license to kill, concerns a Broadway flop, Wild Dogs of the Industrial Wasteland, a neo-beatnik fulmination of the “Society, you corpulent swine” variety. It’s so deep that effete Times critic Dewitt Pettyjohn doesn’t get it until two weeks later — when he and 184 other theatergoers (all who saw it before Pettyjohn’s review closed it down) start convulsing with laughter. Pettyjohn immediately retracts his pan. (What a fantasy!) Then there’s the fiendish sociopath Achmed who moves from teaching “cruelty workshops” to devising the Ultimate Act of Terrorism (he, gasp, asks commodities traders what they do for a living). The ensuing demoralization spreads to Amway and Color Me Beautiful sales personnel and thence to the general population. The government is forced to distract the populace with a nuclear war (symbolized here by having the audience throw paper airplanes at selected targets). All in all, thanks to On the Edge we now have the wonderful chance to skip the rest of the 80s, promise never to do it again, and start the 90s with a comparatively clean slate.
Dreamscape of the Falcon by Paul Peditto, also playing at Igloo’s theater, turns out to be more eclectic strangeness from Igloo’s weirdness factory. Directed by Clyde Greville, it’s the potentially cliched story of Falcon, a jaded journalist who’s been in a deep, possibly suicidal, funk ever since his lover Mary Rose was killed in a car crash. Surrounded by blowups of the dead girl, Falcon (played by Chris Peditto, the playwright’s brother) erupts into sarcasm when his closest friend, Sidney Baines (Beau O’Reilly), tries to get him over his grief by accusing him of self-pity. Falcon seeks refuge in the past: fragmentary flashbacks show him as a news intern in Jerusalem going through his own “stations of the cross” in a very private via dolorosa or seducing a bigoted, Arab-loathing American tourist (Val Olney) — he tells her he’s Arab, then dumps her.
Despite these forays into dream-memories, Falcon continues, as Sidney puts it, to “look for explanations of events” (instead, presumably, of going with the flow). Falcon carries his torch until he meets Cassy (Maria Tirabassi). She’s standing on a pedestal, so it must be love. A mysterious oracular figure, Cassy finds the ghost of Mary Rose hard to exorcise (much like Joan Fontaine in Rebecca). Refusing to become a dead woman’s double, at the end Cassy pulls off a permanent S and M cure for poor Falcon’s necrophilia.
Though the dialogue occasionally turns too rich (or obscure) for a first hearing, the jazzed-up stage pictures have a subliminal language peculiarly their own. Backed up by a pulsating, madcap score by Robert Powell and Ann Boyle, Falcon’s obsessions (playing with false teeth, assuming multiple disguises, unfurling an umbrella in the bathtub) take on a wacky nightmare urgency. As Peditto plays him and Peditto wrote him, Falcon combines film noir hard-boiledness with full-out manic-depression to conjure up some haunting self-destruction. Though sometimes inarticulate in her outbursts, Tirabassi proves a sly and sensuous nemesis, a cunning contrast to Olney’s ugly-American tourist. O’Reilly stretches the furthest, moving Sidney from a priggish confidant to a satyrlike devil’s advocate (in Falcon’s case that’s preaching to the converted). Before the 70 minutes are up, a conventional tale of mourning mania has become one man’s very contagious obsession, a dream journey to fully justify its abundant energy.