There are no bad thoughts….Your thought is as empty of moral meaning as the weather. It may be inconvenient, it may be appalling, it may terrify you, but it is not under your control.
—”Bar Mitzvah” by David Mamet
Whether or not you agree that the con-tagonist of David Mamet’s modern morality tale Edmond is moral, you’ll savor every badass morsel of Joe Banno’s production, which forgoes the propriety requisite to filling houses and garnering subscriptions. “What could be a more heartwarming baptism for the new Source Theatre’s first season than David Mamet’s tinderbox of middle-class white rage, Edmond?” asks Banno, Source’s artistic director (and Washington City Paper’s opera critic). Baptism by fire is more like it.
In the lobby, head shots of the actors looking primed and malleable have been eschewed for Claire Newman-Williams’ enticing photos of the cast in character—a peep-show girl with nipples all but covered, a shirtless, dreadlocked street tough, a masseuse enraptured in cleavaged ecstasy. And then there’s 42-year-old Edmond with his beer gut hanging out, looking like a sweaty, sorry, more intelligent Al Bundy-Willy Loman hybrid.
In the womb of the newly renovated, pillar-free Source, sound designer Brian Keating’s cacophony of traffic envelops the audience, and every ensuing detail supports Banno’s conception of “pre-Giuliani New York City.” Magical, otherworldly music rises as Edmond (Rick Foucheux) sits by candlelight having his fortune told by a deep-voiced mystic (Colleen Delany, in her first of four roles). Mamet bookmarks the play with Edmond’s dalliances in various types of spiritualism and religion, establishing this middle-aged man’s search for meaning. After Edmond gleans from the fortune teller that he is in the “wrong place,” he naturally tries to look for the right place.
Just like a man, he takes his fortune as a sign and begins his downward spiral by announcing to his power-suited wife (Lucy Newman-Williams, in her first of four roles) that he is leaving. Because there is no prior exposition about their marriage, it is disturbing that between Edmond’s weariness and his wife’s disappointment and anger in hearing the news, neither Foucheux nor Newman-Williams conveys much emotion throughout the scene.
But absence of emotion is not a function of director’s style or stylized acting as much as it is the playwright’s trademark. “Actors don’t need to put on some extraneous character,” Mamet has declared. “Their character exists in the action and the words. The best actors are…not pretending to be a character; they’re saying the words and letting the story tell itself.” All seven members of the cast are on fire, but not so charismatic that they distract from the moral of the story. As a bonus, Edmond leaves off the constant Mametian sentence interruptus dialogue, which often discourages audiences from enjoying his work.
Edmond begins his search for the meaning of life at a bar, seeking sympathy for his feelings of castration from a flaccid Archie Bunker type (Tom Quinn, in his first of five roles). As the anti-Polonius to Edmond’s Hamlet, Quinn’s character enumerates what really drives a man: “pussy, power, money, adventure,” and, as an afterthought, “self-destruction and religion.” Edmond must take some serious mental notes during this conversation, because the rest of the play depicts him systematically dipping his pen in all these wells.
As Edmond moves throughout the maze that his life becomes, it’s a guilty thrill to watch Foucheux having to choose his own adventure. As if in a B-movie or a computer game, half-naked women and evil men appear out of nowhere, and props disappear in what seems like a blink of the eye. Tony Cisek’s spare, surprising, pop-up-book set makes for seamless scene changes, marked by both deafening sound cues and Dan Covey’s abrupt and shocking lighting shifts.
Trading the bar for a nightclub blaring “Me So Horny,” Edmond sets off to conquer all his primal urges but is foiled by a succession of unsavories: a hooker he’s too cheap to lay; a pimp, played by the consistently engaging and talented KenYatta Rogers; a tit-flashing, back-bending peep-show girl; and a seemingly innocent fellow honky (Edward Baird Wilford). Watching all these characters do their thang could make you feel a mite dirty if you weren’t laughing sporadically. As shit happens, the increasingly enraged Edmond, flinging racial epithets all the while, pawns his wedding band in an attempt to score the whore. After a mugging, the now-broke Edmond finds himself futilely begging the African-American manager of a cheap hotel for a free room, screaming, “Would you appreciate it if I acted this way to you?” Oh, the tortured life of a misunderstood, upper-middle-class, middle-aged white man.
Edmond’s two encounters with women who aren’t hookers ultimately bring about his downfall. Has so much misogyny welled up inside him, or were they simply the easiest prey? All it takes to win over Glenna the waitress (Delany, in yet another remarkable character change) is the turn of phrase “I want to fuck you.” How romantic. Foucheux, despite the marathon of events, never loses Edmond’s ironic humor: “Don’t assume I’m dumb because I wear a tie,” he tells the insecure Glenna after bedding her. To encourage Glenna to match his own newfound freedom of expression, he urges her to be honest with him. But, paradoxically, Edmond denies Glenna’s humanity—and his denial eventually destroys him.
Without spoiling the show, it is fair to say that Edmond does some very bad things. And just when he encounters a black street preacher offering redemption, deus-ex-machina-style, his carnal spree comes to an abrupt end. Though he blames everything from overpopulation to excessive coffee intake, Edmond ultimately takes responsibility for his lot, and he seems relieved to finally be under someone else’s control, instead of out of his own. But by the end, it appears that Edmond will spend the rest of his life trying to figure out what being a man really means, and how his hatred has come back to fuck him up the ass. Regardless, he has found that other place he was searching for—and his morality—somewhere along the way. CP