Company Carolina's "Edges"
Wednesday, 8:00 p.m.
2 1/2 Stars
(Note: This review was based on a dress rehearsal of the production.)
Company Carolina debuted Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s “Edges” tonight at the Martha Nell Hardy Performance Space in Bingham Hall. The performance's song cycle — a collection of individually complete songs as opposed to a narrative-focused musical — addresses the myriad questions and trials faced by a group of twenty-somethings as they transition into the infancy of adulthood.
The audience is treated to glimpses of the lives of two men and two women, identified simply as Man 1, Man 2, Woman 1 and Woman 2, as they suffer heartbreak, feel growing distance between old friends and toil away at dead-end jobs. Every song in the show plays out like a distinct episode. “I’ve Gotta Run” features a flighty Woman 2 (Abigail Coryell) fretting over a marriage she eventually decides to shirk; Woman 1 (Jackie O’Shaughnessy) and Man 1 (Peyton Chance) trade affectionate quips before admitting their love for one another in “I Hmm You"; in “Along the Way,” Man 2 (Kyle Strickenberger) recalls a lifetime of mistakes, and wonders aloud whether he’ll ever learn his lesson.
Essentially, each song has its own arc, characters and resolution –— with every song transporting the audience to a different setting on a different day. In a song cycle, wherein plot development is far from the primary focus, environment and performance are on prominent display. It was these aspects of the show that truly governed where it succeeded, as well as where it fell short.
The stage in the small black-box theater, which holds no more than a few dozen audience members, is adorned sparsely — a couch, a few boxes and some stairs are scattered across the stage. But it is the floor that the furniture rests on that matters. The stage floor is composed of over 600 photographs of the cast and crew, showcasing a collective past similar to the one shared by the characters that walk the floor. The ambiguously named cast, non-linear nature of the show and personal environment allow the audience to identify with the characters as well as interact with them intimately.
Unsurprisingly, the music is a highlight throughout the performance. Jaunty jingles juxtapose balladic numbers seamlessly, all played on a single keyboard and accompanied by the cast. But while some numbers soar (“Man of My Dreams” and “In Short” were two of the most sharply performed songs), others fall flat.
The women share two songs –— “Caitlyn and Haley” in the first act and “Ready to Be Loved” near the end of the second — but never really find their vocal or theatrical chemistry. The former features an uncomfortable mock fight that feels forced and clumsy, while the latter features the two harmonizing but faltering at the song’s dramatic conclusion. Show-opener “Become” was solid vocally, but the choreography was unenthusiastic and reminiscent of a line dance.
The show employs transitions — spoken-word pieces that address a variety of the characters’ anxieties — to little effect. The brief interruptions are a bit too dramatic for their own good — one voice wonders how he’ll decide what to do with his life when he can’t even decide what to have for lunch — and detract from the show’s chief focus: the music.
The show concludes with “Like Breathing,” a triumphant declaration that the group of young adults will find comfort in their own skin and be who they were meant to be. Though one of the better songs musically, the conclusion nevertheless felt underwhelming. Each character grapples with self-doubt throughout the show, but the audience witnesses no conflict that leads to their eventual triumph. While the vagueness of the songs gives them great relatability, the audience never truly has an opportunity to empathize with the characters.
However, the show's strengths still managed to make it somewhat compelling. Though it’s hard to care about the characters, it is easy to see yourself on the stage — in the midst of heartache, in the throngs of young love or longing to leave home to prove your worth. When performed well, the songs are a hit.
Ultimately, “Edges” is a compilation of several episodes, and just like on television, some are much better than others. When the episodes are good, the show is really fun — unfortunately though, there are some episodes that would be better to skip. And given that there is little else to focus on, the lesser episodes often seem the most glaring.
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