A Not-Too-Belated Review of Edward Scissorhands

I’m not sure what the ticket situation is, but if it’s not sold out, it’s not too late for you to take in a performance. And you should. Because it’s absolutely incredible.

The reviews I’d read go on at length about the genius choreography, how the motions plus the music resulted in a sum so expressive that you’d leave unable to believe you hadn’t heard a single word of dialogue. And this is true. But it’s missing the point. Ballet can say the same. Pantomime can say the same. At the very least, the communicativeness of Bourne’s choreography is by far the lesser miracle–amazingly well done, but no more than what you’d expect.

No, the real miracle in the choreography is–to use the language of story critique–not the way it advances plot but the way it develops character.

For example…

After the (vastly reinterpreted) prologue creates and then orphans the title character, a set change takes us into the suburbs where we follow several neighborhood families through a typical day. It’s a very crowded scene. Family after family come on stage to go through their daily routines of going to work, going to school, driving around, hanging around, and finally going home again. If I could watch any part of the production a second time, it would be this scene. There’s too much detail to take in. Even though most of these characters are bit parts, each is fully realized and individual. If the scene were performed by a crowd of identical clones, you still wouldn’t have any trouble figuring out which kid was which, which father was whose husband, and what each sister thought about each brother. It’s like the rare, successful holiday party wherein the person introducing you to the other attendees causes you, through their amazing social talents, to actually remember everybody’s names.

The other miracle I couldn’t get enough of was the stage itself. The set pieces were ingenious. In that suburban scene, the two house that serve as stage doors are built small and with a lot of dramatic angles to create a sense of perspective. This makes them proceed naturally from the painted houses on the backdrop. It also creates the illusion of more distance than the stage actually allows, so that you feel like action goes on in the street, not in the driveway. Watch also for the multiple semi-opaque curtains in both the prologue and during Ed’s first night with the family which not only provide backdrops but also extra dimensions that open up the scene when you least expect it.

A good handful of special effects transport the movie magic onto the stage, enabling Ed to ply his unique talents right before your eyes. And the memorable combination of goofy tenderness and absurdity that made the movie so remarkable survive intact. If it’s an overstatement to say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, I can at least confirm that quite a lot of people were wiping away discreet tears on their way to the exits. Even the curtain call is an emotional experience–

Huh. I just had a weird sort of mental juxtaposition. OK. Sort of a tangent, but–Anyone reading this grew up Catholic? I think this is a unique-to-Catholicism thing, but I’m not sure: During either Good Friday or Easter Mass–it’s been awhile, forgive me–instead of the usual sermon there’s a sort of reenactment. You get a script. Someone on the altar plays Pontius Pilate, someone else plays Peter, Judas, Jesus, etc. The congregation gets all the crowd lines. And towards the end, the crowd aren’t exactly the good guys. One of their lines is, “Crucify him!” You’re supposed to yell that at the top of your lungs.

It’s sort of uncomfortable-making. No one likes being the bad guy. Well, during the curtain call at Edward Scissorhands, you get to play the good guy. You get to tell Ed that he is loved. I suspect that a lot of the people who made it through the second act sans-Kleenex finally broke down during the standing ovation.

I only had a couple problems with this adaptation, and they’re picky enough that I don’t think they’ll bother most of y’all.

First, the pacing bothered me a little. The first act developed at an unhurried pace, taking its time to fully immerse us in the neighborhood, moving the plot along fairly slowly. And that was comfortable and enjoyable. But once we reached That Fateful Night in the second act, everything seemed very rushed so that I didn’t feel like I had enough time to switch gears and realize that Stuff Was Happening before it was over. (My husband, for the record, disagrees that this is a problem. He thought it was a perfect reflection of how events can spiral out of control. I have no answer to that expect to note that Form Follows Function is sometimes a Fallacy.)

Secondly, remember that one uber-Christian family from the movie? They’re in the stage production, of course, but their role in developing the conflict never quite comes clear. The teenagers’ love triangle is obvious, and the influence of The Woman Scorned is also evident, but if Bourne wanted us also to understand that the Devout Family Is Fomenting A Witch Hunt, it’s too subtle. As a result, their role seems reduced to pure comic relief, which is a little mean and unfair. As Maud Newton blogged, “Making zealous fundies look crazed and ridiculous is… like shooting retarded fish in a very small barrel.” In absence of a clear instance of them persecuting the hapless Ed, the ridicule looks too easy and undeserved to be anything but cruel.

(I’m also a little confused still as to whose–Ed’s or Kim’s–the daydream sequence among the topiary dancers was. But that could just be me being thick here.)

Out of two hours of performance, that’s really all I can think to complain about. In all, it’s an amazing show, and you should go see it while you still can. It’s running through Sunday. See previous post for details about the buy-one-get-one-free ticket deal! It’s totally worth it! Go!

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