Who wouldn’t want to watch a gang of political insurgents belt out 90s power-ballads in a karaoke faceoff while simultaneously building a bomb?
I begin with this irresistibly nerve-wracking highlight, which encapsulates the merits of Studio’s slick production. Edgar & Annabel is a play about saying one thing while doing another—and if you closed your eyes for this sequence, you would hear a prim couple hosting friends for a quick drink and raucous sing-along.
With eyes open, liquid explosives, wires, and duct tape are being frantically assembled into bombs and packed in gift bags with tissue paper for the walk home. Somehow amid this chaos, our heroes Marianne and Nick find the brain-space to quietly fall in love during their gleeful rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
Holly Twyford’s direction shines—the complex action is choreographed flawlessly—while the pristine set design by Debra Booth provides just enough challenges for the audience to be certain that something will wrong. The apartment is like an IKEA showroom littered with landmines. I was unaware that a microphone cord could cause me so much anxiety.
Some background: Nick and Marianne are living double lives–living by a script as Edgar and Annabel in an apartment that is presumably being monitored 24/7 by government computers. Can they continue to follow the script while having actual lives and concerns, or will they crack under the pressure? There’s a Pinter-esque absurdity to their scripted life. The implausibility of a world in which this level of conformity could be effectively enforced moves tinto the realm of satire.
Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Nick is a strong, charming presence from the start. He endears us with his suspicious outlook and obvious resistance to living by a script. The paucity of concrete information regarding life outside the apartment makes him attractive to the audience—for some reason, he’s the one character we trust. He was a defector from the murkily referenced autocratic authority—so as the resistance movement Nick and Marianne are working for becomes increasingly suspicious and controlling, we know that Nick would be willing to open his eyes and defect from this movement as well.
Emily Kester’s Marianne, on the other hand, is a prisoner. She has lived as Annabel for so long that she no longer has the ability to question this system. The government certainly doesn’t need to police Marianne, nor do her superiors in the resistance—Marianne very strictly monitors herself. As Nick and Marianne begin to forge a relationship, we can only hope that she will look for a way out. Kester’s performance is a bit flat at first—but she wins us over by the end.
Holcroft’s play does not resonate as a typical dystopian thriller, as power is never exerted on our characters by outside forces. Rather, the policing of the characters’ every word is carried out internally, and the only violence we see in this play is self-inflicted.
In my view, the parallels to Snowden and the NSA scandal are a red herring, a distraction from the true value of this play. Please bear with me on a brief trip down subjectivity lane: Edgar and Annabel resonates with audiences as an allegory for the strictures of contemporary monoculture, for the constant role-playing that we enforce among ourselves in a world without counter-culture. Like it or not, Nick and Marianne are Edgar and Annabel for however long they are willing to pretend–and after a point, it can hardly be called pretending.
Edgar & Annabel by Sam Holcroft . directed by Holly Twyford . Featuring Emily Kester (Marianne), Maboud Ebrahimzadeh (Nick), Lisa Hodsoll (Miller), Lauren E. Banks (Tara), Jacob Yeh (Marc), Shravan Ambin (Anthony), Maggie Erwin (Claire) . Set design: Debra Booth . Lighting design: Adrian Rooney . Costume design: Kelsey Hunt . Sound design: Palmer Hefferan . Produced by Studio Theatre . Reviewed by J. Robert Williams.