Page 73 and the Play Company do right with this well-mounted production of "Edgewise."

Workshops are all very cozy, but it takes the full professional treatment for untested playwrights to see how far they’ve come — and how far they have to go. Page 73 and the Play Company do right by emerging young scribe Eliza Clark with this well-mounted production of “Edgewise,” a dystopian drama about three New Jersey teens struggling to hold onto their humanity as a violent civil war rages outside the fast-food restaurant where they work. While the political ideology stands up, show’s loose structure and shaky internal logic indicates that it’s back to the workshop for this one.

Penning for both stage and smallscreen (“Rubicon”) venues must have sharpened Clark’s facility for thinking outside the box. Although she’s obviously comfortable writing about confused young people, her imagination takes her beyond that narrow world.

At first look, “Edgewise” seems to be a conventionally realistic study of two shirker teens (and one busy bee) working the early shift at Dougal’s, a depressing fast-food joint (which raises a shudder in Andromache Chalfant’s grungy set) in some unnamed New Jersey suburb.

Ruckus (Philip Ettinger) is the self-important boss of this crew, having been elevated to shop manager by his father, who owns the franchise. Marco (Tobias Segal) is the good-natured, weak-kneed grunt who shares Ruckus’ weed and puts up with his aggressive bullying. Emma (Aja Naomi King) is the conscientious kid who fires up the grill, fills the mayonnaise dispensers and does her best to keep the boss in check.

Under Trip Cullman’s assured helming, the hyper-naturalistic production style plays out in the utterly natural manner in which these adolescents flirt, fight, complain, goof off, and otherwise relate to one another.

What’s horribly unnatural about the scene at Dougal’s is the bloody civil war that’s being fought outside.

The first indication of the chaos is Marco’s account of a shoot-out on the highway. Sudden blackouts (engineered by Nicole Pearce) and the shuddering sound (Bart Fasbender) of low-flying planes dropping bombs are stronger indicators that the fighting is getting closer. But it’s the shocking appearance of a stranger who staggers into Dougal’s covered in blood that really brings the violence home.

Once he’s installed in the storage room of the restaurant, the wounded Louis (Alfredo Narciso, who does yeoman duty in this punishing role) brings out all the latent impulses of these young people — along with the moral qualms that have kept them in check throughout this long war.

Clark ‘s premise — of how easily the innocent are corrupted by violence — is borne out by the brutal treatment Louis receives at the hands of these confused kids. But the more we learn about the war and the extent of their involvement in it, the less convincing their behavior seems. Scenes that might have been attributed to lazy writing or awkward character development are revealed as dramatic contrivances for keeping the characters from saying and doing what should come naturally to anyone as savvy in the savage ways of the world as these poor kids are.

No criticism of the actors intended here, but they’ll never convince us that anyone in this post-Apocalyptic hell is still buying burgers at Dougal’s..

Edgewise

Walkerspace; 74 seats; $40 top

Production

A Page 73 and the Play Company presentation of a play in one act by Eliza Clark. Directed by Trip Cullman. Set, Andromache Chalfant; costumes, Jenny Mannis; lighting, Nicole Pearce; sound and original music, Bart Fasbender; fight choreography, Thomas Schall; production stage manager, Kelly Glasgow. Opened and reviewed Nov. 17, 2010. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast

Marco - Tobias Segal Ruckus - Philip Ettinger Emma - Aja Naomi King Louis - Alfredo Narciso Paul - Brandon Dirden
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