The Edge of the World
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
June 15, 2007
The Edge of the World, playing at La MaMa E.T.C. as part of the first National Asian American Theatre Festival, comes from two days' experimentation by Asian Arts Initiative. As explained at the top of the show by director F. Omar Telan, the company developed the show in two days, creating various scenes with the theme of honesty as their sole limitation. It was less important to create the illusions of space and time than it was for the actors to act only as themselves and create pieces reflecting their collective experiences. The result of these explorations is a show consisting of 25 scenes with little or no connective tissue between them. They run from 30 seconds to five minutes, utilize between one and ten actors, and range from the deadly serious to the absurdly ridiculous. Each scene begins with an actor announcing a title followed by the word "Begin" and ends with an actor saying "Scene." Telan and his company handle the material with skill, enthusiasm, and a welcome touch of madness.
The strongest pieces involve audience participation. In "All Trades are Final," two actors enter the audience from the stage armed with two pennies and turn the place into an open market, trading the pennies with audience members for items such as business cards, metro cards, tampons, and money. At one point, a woman tried to trade a stack of dollar bills but the actors had more intriguing currency in mind. In "The Match," a man asked the entire audience to stand up and through a series of questions—"Anyone who still looks at their ex's MySpace page, sit down"—whittled the audience down to find a date ("Please find me in the lobby after the show.") And in the show's most joyous piece, "Three Minutes," two men have three minutes to teach a young woman to play Don Ho's "Tiny Bubbles" on the baritone ukulele. For reasons better seen than described, I don't even remember if they succeeded.
The play's more serious scenes are less successful but some pack moments of quiet power. "Split Ends" starts with one person grooming another person's hair while telling her something about herself and ends with a grooming group of people revealing intimate and startling truths to each other. My favorite scene was the haunting "Rejection," in which a man reacts to several rejection letters (read in voiceover), shredding photocopies of his own headshot. As each letter becomes more personal and reveals the not so poetic motivations fueling his art, the actor walks slowly through the audience and presents the scraps to those he wishes to entertain.
AAI employs a variety of theatrical styles and disciplines in their commitment to "honesty" and "truth," but the show, effectively illustrating the inherent beauty in shared experience, never thoroughly explores the dangers and cruelties that cause us to become isolated from one another. This may be a limitation of their process though, and in no way takes away from the spirit of the evening. The Edge of the World is an incredibly generous piece of theatre.