Entertainment » Theatre

Edward King

by Adam Brinklow
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday May 18, 2017
Ed  (John Patrick Moore*) is the king of all he surveys
Ed (John Patrick Moore*) is the king of all he surveys  

"Edward King" at Berkeley's Central Works is probably the first play ever written about a literal Oedipus complex.

Luckless mailman lead Ed, played by John Patrick Moore, previously the mustachioed meathead from last season's "Hearts of Palm," becomes convinced he has married his own mother by mistake. He even thinks he's under a curse because of it.

Since even Ed's name is, of course, a play on the title of "Oedipus Rex," maybe we can't blame him for becoming obsessed with the notion.

Never mind that his wife (Michelle Talgarow, also from "Hearts") is only 13 years older than he is, and Filipino to boot in contrast to his Wonder Bread whiteness. Once the idea sticks, it sticks.

It's worth noting that this first occurs to the character during a nightmare. And that a dark and mysterious figure delivers the allegations while dressed in something that suggests Robert Smith from the Cure designing an outfit for Carmen Miranda.

Yeah, "Edward King" is a strange play, but that's more or less normal for the company and writer/director Gary Graves. Graves notes in the program that he set out to write a comedy, but can only promise that "King" is "funny to him."

Central Works seems to be channeling the deadpan senselessness of a dark comedy by the Coen brothers here. Maybe that's inevitable when you try to base a comedy on history's greatest tragedy.

Does working class life in America seem like a curse? Does the world just make more sense if we imagine malicious deities taking personal shots at us from on high? There's some merit to this thinking.

So a vicious dog harries Ed at work. His college-age daughter is distant and moody. His wife's diner job is starting to wear at the nub of her patience, and worst of all some strange black mold attacks the basement.

All everyday complaints, by and large. (Paranoia about being put out of a job by FedEx drones is less commonplace, but give it a few years.) But our harried lead can't help but wonder if divine wrath lies behind it all.

There is something funny about watching this neurosis bloom. When Ed takes his obsession to a basket case psychiatrist (the perennially brilliant Jan Zvaifler), she thinks it's hilarious. And then so do we. Everyone is having fun here except Ed, which itself becomes fun in a sick way.

It would have been nice to see Zvaifler keep running with that shrink character, but sadly it's a one-off appearance, though she pops up in a handful of other ensembles roles.

"Edward King" has a lot of things that would be nice to explore more. Talgarow unpacks a whole lot of baggage and secrets for her everywoman role, but is just not onstage enough to walk out the dynamic between the couple.

Graves gives a lot of attention on the mold subplot for some reason (the phrase "mold subplot" should be problematic enough at face value to put someone off of this) but it never really makes sense.

At one point Ed stumbles on a definite solution to his dilemma, then pursues it, then seemingly forgets about it while chasing another lead, only to come back to the previous tact in the end.

This jumbling up of kinda-sorta explored ideas, nuggets of bigger things, and dynamics that need to be workshopped more is a bad habit that the playwright has fallen into before.

The thing that pulls "Edward King" up is the work Graves does with Moore as a director.

In "Hearts of Palm," Moore's boisterousness went against the grain of the show's serious business. But in "Edward King" his lovable weirdo sensibilities gel very naturally with the gravity of things since the conflict starts in such a bizarre place that only a lovable weirdo could create such a predicament.

You can love a universe that produces the occasional Ed King. No matter which reckless deities lurk behind the scenes.

"Edward King" plays through June 18 at the City Club, 2315 Durant Street in Berkeley. For tickets and information, call 510-558-1381 or visit CentralWorks.org

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