Toronto’s Storefront Theatre presents Edmond, David Mamet’s play about straight, middle-class, white men problems
David Mamet is very concerned about straight, middle-class white men and their troubles with modern, North American life. His one-act, Edmond, follows one such man as he contends with women, people of colour, religion, and the law in New York City. Storefront Theatre‘s intense production brings Edmond and his surroundings to vivid life and I enthusiastically applaud each and every artist involved, but I don’t much care for Edmond or most of the people he encounters.
Edmond is full of animal instincts and we’re to understand that he’s oppressed by society. He’s got a decent job and wife, but he’s bored. In about two dozen very quick scenes, he leaves his wife, haggles with a stripper, a prostitute, a pawn-shop owner and tries to get laid as cheaply as possible. He wants to feel something. (It’s so hard for straight white men to feel things in the civilized world.) So he makes a conscious decision to break free from the shackles of civilization. He screws up pretty badly and eventually lands himself in jail.
Tim Walker is a visceral thrill as Edmond. He seems timid at first, but once he leaves home and goes out into the throbbing streets of Manhattan, he becomes a sweaty, desperate, angry presence yearning for some intangible ideal. He’s determined and dangerous and exciting to watch for those very qualities.
Director Benjamin Blais has crafted a delightfully stylish and kinetic staging. Bronwen Lily’s simple, amusing and evocative set pieces glide seamlessly off and on as Edmond traverses New York’s seedy underbelly. The scene transitions are stunning thanks to Ashleigh Powell’s movement choreography that suggests the hypnotic flurry of human traffic.
The entire ensemble cast does great work. I was particularly intrigued by Christef Desir’s quietly intense and sensual portrayal of Edmond’s prison cell-mate. Even when his behaviour is explicitly threatening, he somehow manages to be alluring. And I can sort of understand how, despite the violation that occurs, Edmond would eventually find in him some genuine comfort and companionship. I found their dynamic in the final moments quite compelling; it beautifully suggests the fluidity of human sexuality.
Ultimately, Edmond felt shallow to me. Walker paints a fiery and convincing portrait, but I didn’t find much depth in Mamet’s text. I think he wants to challenge me with a character that does and says horrible things yet is a product of society and therefore, ultimately, a victim of circumstance. Am I supposed to accept that this vague malaise he’s experiencing is enough to drive someone to madness? Does Mamet want me to believe that Edmond’s situation is so very oppressive? I don’t buy it.
Sure, it’s unfortunate that he’s no longer attracted to his wife and is disenchanted with his yuppie lifestyle. But here’s what I say: deal with it, buddy. And deal with it without lapsing into sudden violence while spewing racial and homophobic slurs. He calms down at the end and seems to have learned something, but did this dude’s life really have to fall apart so completely in the first place? It was fascinating to watch the spectacle, I’ll admit that, but I’m not particularly impressed by Mamet’s commentary on modern urban life and the white, middle-class male experience of it.
And yes, I recognize that it has a fable-like quality, but Mamet’s gift for verisimilitude in the dialogue bites him in the ass here. Edmond is written to be taken at face value. And taken at face value, I think he’s an entitled guy who feels disgruntled and throws a tantrum.
But whoa, it’s pretty damn exciting to watch him throw it!
- Edmond plays at The Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor St. West) until November 22
- Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm
- Tickets are $20-$25 and can be purchased online
Photo of Christef Desir and Tim Walker by John Gundy