Ali Rose Dachis gives the kind of performance in "The Edge of Our Bodies" that can be a career touchstone. She evokes her character's charged emotions clearly and vividly, without huge gestures or overacting.
Since Dachis depicts a 16-year-old boarding-school student in the midst of sexual and other awakenings, she and director Ben McGovern could have teed up expected teenage bombast and let it rip.
That the actor often communicates more with less -- a zoned out look, a mock charge, silence -- speaks to the smart choices she and McGovern made. Dachis gets under the skin of her character with palpable immediacy in Adam Rapp's highly literary one-act, which opened Wednesday at the Guthrie in Minneapolis.
"Edge" has a straightforward, simile-laden elegance that will delight lovers of language, even as its character's mature mastery of language, literature and craft sometimes strains credulity. What 16-year-old, no matter how precocious, writes and speaks like this?
Bernadette (Dachis) wants to be a writer and an actor. She is on her way to New York, where she plans a surprise visit with her 19-year-old boyfriend. She has sobering news.
We know this, and most everything else, because Bernadette tells us so, often reading from her diary. Playwright Rapp has given us a coming-of-age story ripped from the pages of the New Yorker. "Edge" feels inspired, stylistically and in subject matter, by the likes of John Cheever and John Updike. It does have some adult language.
There is a question about whether this is all happening or if it's true. Bernie, we learn, casually invents personae as a survival mechanism.
Director McGovern has staged "Edge" with care on Michael Hoover's posh set of tiered, overlapping floor circles lit by a gorgeous chandelier. Dachis moves fluidly through the space, starting far away, when she sits, erect, as if waiting for an interview. She comes closer as the story builds.
In many musicals, characters use songs when emotions overpower speaking. Rapp uses excerpts of Jean Genet's "The Maids," in which Bernadette is cast in a school production, to evince her fears and anger. It's a nice way to introduce younger audiences to the pleasures of Genet, but it feels grafted on.
"Edge" also varies the formula for a one-person show with a break in the fourth wall (executed with droll authority by actor Steve Sweere). The upshot is that we see Bernie reading by a ghost-light, usually the only light that is on in an otherwise "dark" theater, as she tells us some serious news. It's a clever visual metaphor, but it feels insider-ish.
Still, Dachis' extraordinary turn and the pleasures of the text make me want to go to this "Edge" again.