Virago Theatre Company’s ‘The Edge of the World’ shows promise through stellar performances despite limitations in production

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The edge of the world does not have to be a post-apocalyptic scene with barren landscapes and half-human savages. For Miles Pawski, the edge can be found in places that are familiar and dear to us.

Pawski’s “The Edge of the World” is a survival tale. Two families, originating from opposite sides of the world, are brought together by their status as illegal immigrants. In their pursuit of the American Dream, social barricades make familial dissolution a constant threat for every character. And their actions ultimately remind them that their lives will be anything but normal.

Racial tension, immigration, displacement and isolation are all forces strikingly relevant today considering the political climate of our times — and they push Pawski’s characters to the proverbial edge. Pawski and director Robert Paine take on these themes of large magnitude using very little.

Pawski’s vision really comes alive through the actors’ and actresses’ ability to immerse themselves into their environments. With performances that demand our attention, the players convince us that the elements pushing them on the brink of social decrepitude are real.

Jamella Cross — who plays the young, promiscuous and precocious Celia Franks — delivers her snide and judgmental remarks to her father, Lido Franks (Garth Petal), and her neighbor, lover and rival, Tommy Duggan (Lucas Hernandez), with a precision that cuts deep enough to be palpable from the audience.

Pawski has also created a well-rounded character with Lido Franks, an alcoholic father who is clumsy but also aware of his own shortcomings and limitations. By instilling this self-acknowledgement, Pawski allows viewers to sympathize with Lido and his motives. Although fatally flawed, he is, like all characters in the play, a victim of circumstance.

Garth Petal brings Lido to life through little details in his body language. Subtle actions such as the eyes that seem to cross every time he makes a triumphant harangue while he is inebriated present Lido as a tragically humorous character. There are moments where he can be admired, but also times where he can be easily contemptible.

The costume design (Jasmine Williams) also plays a valuable role in delivering some of themes present in Pawski’s play. The clothes used serve as visual indicators of traits that are deeply embedded in each character. Lido’s camouflage pants and Celia’s motley closet of Native American garb and the average public school girl outfit convey their irreconcilable identities as “cowboys and Indians.”

Some of the costumes, however, also fall flat in fulfilling that deepening task. It was difficult to tell what Williams was exactly trying to achieve with Matt Monaco’s character, Donnie Duggan, with the tight jeans and overhanging beanie. Fashionable? Sure. But is he supposed to be some sort of attractive Scottish hipster?

Moving beyond the characters, the simple stage designed also felt at times perfunctory; a teepee, some camping chairs, a picnic table and two reception chairs look as if they had just been bought from a megamarket and set up on the same day. It is difficult at times to grasp the gravity of the characters’ situation in light of these little details. (Are they hiding for their lives or are they just camping?) At times, these distracting elements pull the audience out of the “desolate campground” it is supposed to be transported to.

The rest of the stage design consists of a projector displaying images of various backgrounds— a forest, a high school and a court — that unfortunately have the semblance of stock photos.

Perhaps, though — like the uncontrollable forces that determine the fate of the characters’ lives — some of the shortcomings are due to circumstances out of Pawski’s and the Virago Theatre Company’s control. Considering the modesty of the production along with the underwhelming number of people in the audience, “The Edge of the World” is a poignant reflection of the lack of support local theater companies receive nowadays.

But Miles Pawski, Robert Paine and the talents in “The Edge of the World” prove to be triumphant despite the limits of their medium, crafting a play that is convincing and resonates with the world beyond the stage.

Contact Lloyd Lee at [email protected].