Building bombs in a bugged apartment: Edgar and Annabel at Studio Theatre

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.

Emily Kester as Marianne and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Nick in  Edgar & Annabel (Photo: Igor Dmitry)

Emily Kester as Marianne and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Nick in Edgar & Annabel
(Photo: Igor Dmitry)

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.

Recommended
Edgar & Annabel
Closes January 5, 2014
The Studio Theatre
1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
1 hour, 15 minutes, no  intermission
Tickets: $30
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details
Tickets/Website 

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.

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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.

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Other reviews:

Keith Loria . TheaterMania
Chris Klimek . City Paper
Elizabeth Bruce . BroadwayWorld
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post
Jane Horwitz . Washingtonian
Robert Michael Oliver . MDTheatreGuide 

Comments

  1. Betsy Cavendish says:

    Who’s the villain? The government that spies on people? The people and the political cell that want to overthrow that government, but who enforce their own heirarchy and strategy through thought-police, continuous monitoring and Orwellian, 1984-style discipline? Nothing is genuine in Edgar and Annabel. The play’s near-future dystopia sometimes feels creepily like the present culture of information mining, computer cookies, employee monitoring, talking points and brand consistency, and other times the dystopian mood fades and Edgar and Annabel feels like a big send-up of theatre itself. Actors are saying their new lines, falling in love on stage, trying to distinguish between their roles and themselves, or to merge their political-stage identities with their “real” selves. artifice, control and identity are at the heart of the play’s themes–the violence of disappearances, arrests, bomb-makings, and death is backdrop.

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