The connection that Susan Faludi has recently made between violence in men and their feelings of powerlessness wouldn't have surprised David Mamet. Those who think of him as a woman-basher may be surprised at how excoriatingly mean he can be about his own sex. In Mamet's early-'80s "Edmond"--being given a funny, scintillating, nasty production at Source Theatre--his target is the Angry White Male, and he leaves him hacked and bleeding.
Edmond (Rick Foucheux) comes home from his well-paid but dreary middle-class job to be greeted by his wife (Lucy Newman-Williams) with the line, "The girl broke the lamp." It's so hard to get good help! Or female companionship that isn't so stupidly boring it could drive a man to . . . well, walk out on his wife, which is what Edmond does. Out the door and down the rat hole of what director Joe Banno specifies as "pre-Giuliani New York City," a k a the White Guy's Nightmare.
Banno is in sharp, smart, hallucinogenic form in this production, which looks, moves and sounds (thanks to designer Brian Keating) like an urban nightmare. Tony Cisek's set is mostly battered metal and dirty glass; bits of it fold abruptly down from the ceiling, not only providing a new bit of environment, such as a glassed-in cashier's counter, but cutting off the main character's hope of escape. Banno has staged "Edmond" in the round, and its antihero is doomed to run in tighter and tighter circles.
Foucheux deliberately overemphasizes the shortcomings of his middle-age body: sagging gut and softening chin, dirty stubble and dark-bagged eyes. The actor seems as unsparing with himself as he does with the character, whom he plays as a creature of sullen, self-pitying determination.
Edmond encounters pimps, con men, drunks, whores, pawnbrokers, preachers, cops and criminals. Finally he hooks up with a waitress (Colleen Delany) who seems as pretentious and shallow as he is. They get together for a night of sex and whining about how much they hate various minority groups, but it doesn't work out well: Edmond's next sexual encounter will be forced on him in jail by his cellmate.
At one point Edmond claims he needs a knife "for protection." "From whom?" he is asked. "From everyone" is the reply. Cringing along the mean streets, he shrinks from black criminals and female hustlers, even though he longs secretly to be brother to the first and lover to the second. This is a creepily erotic production, with sex presented as mesmerizingly repellent: Edmond moves toward his doom like a hypnotized rabbit staggering into a snake's mouth.
This dystopian wonderland has many strange citizens, all played by six talented actors. Aside from Delany and Newman-Williams, there are Tom Quinn--coarse as a man in a bar, pitiful as a prison chaplain; KenYatta Rogers, slick as a pimp, world-weary and solid as a cop; Edward Baird Wilford, slimy in a variety of roles; and David Lamont Wilson, equally convincing as a preacher or a card sharp.
Mamet's talent for hatefulness is rather breathtaking. He turns over a lot of cultural stones here, and under each one is a writhing, ugly mass. Edmond's fearful racial-revenge fantasy--which he acts out--is so vile it's hard to listen to, and made viler by its pettiness. This isn't righteous anger but a spitting, bratty tantrum.
Though it's impossible to sympathize with Edmond, it's also impossible not to feel he's been set up by his creator. For one thing, he's pathetically stupid--taken in by B-girls and three-card-monte sharks, always complaining about how much everything costs, sulking instead of thinking. He's a walking disaster area, like that old comic-strip character with a thundercloud over his head. It's amazing a building doesn't fall on him. Everything else does.
And he deserves every bit of it. Mamet is merciless. He's vicious. He's unfair. He's also horribly funny. Hate-filled and hateful, "Edmond" is also hilarious--an over-the-edge satiric comedy, as vicious about men as "Oleanna" is about women.The difference being that everyone ignored "Edmond" because its despicable patsy was a middle-age man rather than a loudmouthed coed.
Edmond by David Mamet. Directed by Joe Banno. Assistant director, E. Bentley Solomon. Lights, Dan Covey; costumes, Anne Kennedy and Traci Holcombe; props, Elsie Jones; fights, Michael Johnson. At the Source Theatre through Oct. 3. Call 202-462-1073.
CAPTION: Rick Foucheux as the vile, vengeful Edmond.
CAPTION: Rick Foucheux as the title character in Source Theatre's "Edmond."