Daniel Treadway (left) finds life outside the mainstream littered with hustlers, as the title character in David Mamet's Edmond.
Daniel Treadway (left) finds life outside the mainstream littered with hustlers, as the title character in David Mamet's Edmond.
Amy Spangler

Heart of Darkness

A coal-black darkness pounds in the heart of David Mamet's Edmond, a savage and utterly thrilling play about a middle-class white man's search for meaning in a "world that seems to be crumbling." Under the demonic direction of Infernal Bridegroom's artistic director, Jason Nodler, the company's blazing production of this astonishing play is, without question, one of the most riveting offered anywhere this season.

White-collared and deeply dissatisfied, Edmond (Daniel Treadway) abandons his marriage one night, saying simply to his devastated wife, "you don't interest me spiritually or sexually." In an effort to find something that does interest him, he wanders out into the urban wasteland smoldering below the surface of his workaday life. And in that underworld, Edmond discovers that he is nothing more than another angry white man in a gray suit. He stumbles upon a place so violated by indifference and decay that the meaningful existence he so desperately desires has been reduced to hammered-out moments of survival.

This is a landscape of B-girls and whores, of cardsharks and shills, of hatred and degradation, a hell on earth into which the naive Edmond tumbles as he turns from one stranger to the next, saying over and over, "I'm putting myself at your mercy."

Each scene glimmers like some horrifying yet mesmerizing jewel, winking from the darkness in designer Devlin Browning's gorgeous light. The vast, empty stage at Atomic Cafe becomes a swampy, protracted night filled with murky pools of light -- not light so much as voodoo dollops of syrupy yellow glow that do much more than establish mood. For Edmond begins his journey in absolute darkness. He knows nothing about himself except what the fortune-teller says to him: "You are not where you belongŠ You are unsure what your place is."

At his journey's end he arrives at a half-light, a yellow glow of self-discovery, in which he realizes and even accepts that darkness is all we have and all we can know. Knowledge, intuition and memory become one, taking us no further than where we began, puzzling over the journey of life and wondering where we will arrive. Edmond does eventually find love and an identity, but it is in the most startling place.

Nodler takes full advantage of the poetry in this script and the skills of his lighting designer. In one stunning scene Edmond carries on a long conversation with another man as they discuss the possibility of heaven and hell. As they talk, the other man's large and powerful hand becomes the visual focus. He punctuates each point in the conversation with a finely choreographed gesture, a dip of the wrist, a point of the finger. The smoky scene is hypnotic for its spare and intelligent grace. At once painterly and highly dramatic, Nodler's aesthetic is unlike any other in town. Artful, intelligent and electric with imagination, this theater company continues to amaze. The chorus of performances by the actors who each play several roles is powerful and perfectly pitched. Treadway's Edmond is harrowing for his pathetic ordinariness.

Though not exactly holiday fare, Edmond is an inspiring, even brilliant, work not to be missed by anyone who loves the theater.

Edmond runs through December 11 at Atomic Cafe, 1320 Nance, (713)522-8443. $9.99; $7.99 for students and seniors.


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