Edges: A Song Cycle
Big Entertainment in a Small Location

By Geary Danihy

As I wander around Connecticut visiting the various theaters that dot the landscape, the abundance of talent out there never ceases to amaze me. One would expect quality work at the "name" venues like the Westport Country Playhouse, Goodspeed Opera House, Long Wharf and others, but the talent pool is large enough that captivating performances can be found in venues much smaller and less well known.

Such is the case with the quartet of actors currently performing in Edges - A Song Cycle at MTC MainstageStudio Theatre in Westport. The venue sports 50 seats at best, with the actors performing mere feet from the audience - stage and house together are perhaps a quarter the size of many basements in Fairfield County homes. Such intimacy can present problems if the cast is uncomfortable being so up-close and personal with the audience or is just not capable of delivering performances that can bear close scrutiny.

In this case, the "problems" could easily be exacerbated by the fact that, as the title indicates, this is not so much a musical with a traditional book as it is a series of songs whose themes are loosely connected. Hence, we have the possibility of the evening becoming little more than a cabaret show consisting of unfamiliar songs delivered by less than competent talent. The fact that none of these "problems" arises and that, in sum, Edges' 80 minutes are engagingly entertaining, at times poignant and at other times archly witty or inclusively humorous, must go to the credit of the cast, the composers, Benj Pasek and Westport resident Justin Paul, and director Kevin Connors.

Guys don't show their emotions and girls do, so it's not surprising that the two female members of the cast, the statuesque Monique French and the elfin Alex Ellis, emote a bit more than their male counterparts, Kevin Reed and Michael Kadin Craig. And emote they do.

In number after number, the two, either separately or together, display an amazing range of emotions that, presented mere feet from the audience, cannot help but enthrall. The tone is set with "Lying There," as French tries to understand why she is not happy sleeping next to Mr. Perfect. He's everything a girl might want, but somehow he just doesn't fill the little nooks and crannies that seem so unimportant to a male but deeply resonate for females. French's eyes glisten and her hands quiver as she grapples with the truth that she cannot find happiness in the arms of a man most women would die for.

Equally chilling, emotionally, is Ellis's delivery of "Perfect," in which she pleads with her boyfriend to give her one more chance because she knows she can be perfect for him, she can change all of the little things that irritate him and be exactly what he wants, whatever that is. The heartfelt ache in her delivery is palpable.

The two again rise to wonderful heights later in the show. French's "I've Gotta Run," a phrase she uses as she backs away from relationship after relationship, is exquisitely nuanced both vocally and physically - a raised eyebrow, a quivered lip, a hand unsure of where to place itself all add to the overall effect, a mesmerizing moment that totally captures a person's fear of commitment and subsequent devastation when she finally opens up only to have the male leave her a note telling her he's "Gotta run."

It is, however, given to Ellis to create perhaps the most memorable moment of the show. Jilted by her boyfriend, she sings "In Short," a no-holds-barred fantasy on what she would like to see happen to the swine. It's frantic and funny and ends with a glorious "dance of death" that is alone worth the price of admission.

As mentioned, the guys - being guys - are a bit more restrained with their emotions, but they have their moments as well. Reed is allowed a bit more latitude to show a male's sensitive side. His featured piece is "I Once Knew," which he sings to his mother as she lies on her deathbed in the hospital. Although it's his moment, credit must also go to French for heightening the emotional level, for she sits with him as he works out his pain and she never takes her eyes off him, eyes that are misted over. The scene was performed perhaps six feet from where I was sitting, and it was both painful and beautiful.

The two again interact delightfully in "Better," an arch, witty take on one-upmanship after attending a high school class reunion. Pay close attention to the lyrics for they are priceless as Reed and French list the ways their lives have turned out so much better than those of their hapless former classmates.Craig's material is the most restrained. He is the young man unsure of what he wants to be and unable to truly express what he feels. This inability is best captured in "I HmmYou," a duet with Ellis in which they both cannot bring themselves to say the "L" word. They again grapple with love's vagaries in "Dispensable," with the couple on the brink of a breakup and questioning how they can suddenly mean so little to each other.

The show is in its last week, with performances running through Sunday, Feb. 17. The performance I attended was sold out, but there may be a few seats still available for this weekend's performances. Give them a call. If you are lucky enough to land a ticket you won't be disappointed.

For tickets or more information call 454-3883 or go to www.MTCMainStage.org

(This review originally appeared in the Norwalk Citizen News.)

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