'Edgar and Wilcox': Stop, you fools!

August 04, 1993|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,Contributing Writer

The Bowman Ensemble could never be accused of sticking to the straight and narrow path. Its outdoor mounting of a new play by artistic director Matthew Ramsay, "The Adventures of Old Edgar and Wilcox," is itself an adventure that frequently leaves the staging ground at McDonogh School to wander along crooked hillside paths lined with red, yellow and blue stones.

Although the play quickly loses its way and audiences may well lose interest in its nonsensical turns, its premise is intriguing and the two central performances are first-rate.

The play sets out to update the traditional function of the Fool in literature: the seeming half-wit, sometimes physically deformed, whose foolish observations turn out to be the most insightful.

In "The Adventures of Old Edgar and Wilcox," the titular characters are a foolish duo. They're down-on-their-luck guys hanging out at a sorry shack that barely qualifies as shelter. Old Edgar is a curmudgeon given to ordering the younger Wilcox about. Edgar describes his own attitude as "anti-humor," and he may even be an anti-Christ. By contrast, Wilcox is a friendly fellow who says he only wants the ordinary things in life.

As they take turns kicking a blue-painted car tire, their movements are suddenly transformed into a dance, and they're like an existential vaudeville team. Uncertain of their place in the world, these agile vagabonds would like to find a permanent home but in the meantime would gladly settle for a sandwich. Essentially philosophical descendants of Beckett, they endlessly argue about matters of the stomach as much as of the mind.

It might seem unfair to fault a play about fools for being too foolish, but the promising early scenes quickly degenerate into labored nonsense. And because the playwright also serves as his own director here, there apparently was no other guiding voice to observe that the picaresque adventures of Edgar and Wilcox go on too long and lead nowhere. A scripted reference to "unsubstantiated weirdness" pretty much sums up what ensues.

Granted, their search for meaning in a meaningless world justifies some of the weirdness. Not to mention the random funny lines that justify themselves, as when Edgar ducks behind a pile of junk saying, "I'll hide behind this group of random objects."

But the play is undone by whimsical pranks that wear out their welcome and by a main story line that makes as little sense as the blue tire.

The plot, to use that term as loosely as the play does, has to do with Edgar's confrontations with a character named John Change (Joey Scherr).

Clad in a white jumpsuit that reinforces his identity as an evangelical figure, his initials -- JC -- naturally make you think of Jesus Christ. He preaches to his followers that everything must change but, then again, perhaps the more things change the more they stay the same. However muddled his metaphysics, it's safe to say Change presents himself as a positive force in opposition to what he defines as Edgar's negative force.

If a viewer has lost interest in what seems an ill-defined central conflict, all that's left is to keep a score card, as most of the cast members (with the exception of Edgar and Wilcox) further confuse us by assuming multiple roles.

These strange characters include an Italian sharpie who swaps war stories with Edgar, a "Critic of the World" whose acerbic know-it-all stance hits all too close to home for anyone in the audience taking notes, a "Goat Poet" performed in gaudy drag, and a "Gasman" who not only reads meters but runs off with newlywed brides.

I haven't yet related the poetic tale of a dirty dishrag, described the mystical incantations and neo-hippie dances, or frightened you with an account of the character who possesses sci-fi "zapping" powers, but I think it's time for a reality check, don't you?

THEATER REVIEW

What: "The Adventures of Old Edgar and Wilcox" by the Bowman Ensemble

Where: The McDonogh School, Owings Mills

When: 8 p.m. Aug. 4-8, 11-14; rain date of Aug. 10

Tickets: $10; $6 for students and senior citizens

Call: (410) 889-0406

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