PLAYBILL PICKS: David Mamet's Five Most Memorable Men

By Robert Simonson
25 Oct 2012

David Rasche (with Mary Anne Urbano) in the Atlantic Theater Company's Edmond.
Photo by Elizabeth Messina

Edmond Burke, Edmond

The title role in Edmond is probably the least-known of the roles on this list. In many ways, Edmond is an anomaly. Many of Mamet's plays take a dim view of existence, but this 1982 work is relentlessly dark, and unusually expressionistic, taking the anti-hero through the seedier byways of urban life, all the way to prison. Unlike most of the other works by the writer, which are typically divided into two or three big scenes, the action is told in 23 short episodes. Moreover, here we have one male protagonist — not two, not three — on which all attention is focused. The play is rarely staged, but when it is — a production at the Atlantic in 1996; a 2003 London staging starring Kenneth Branagh — it is usually praised. Among Mamet veterans, it is reserved a special admiration.

"Why is it one of the great roles?" asked Neil Pepe. "Because it's a man who chooses to remove himself from his life and go on this odyssey and rediscover himself. In terms of an arc, and a guy who's on a quest to own who he is, it's a remarkable journey. In some ways, it's Mamet's darkest play. It's aged well. It's about this guy opening himself up, and getting in a lot of trouble, and finding his way back."

"Edmond is unlike any other character in Mamet's work, or for that matter American drama," offered Mosher. "His journey through rage and mysticism to redemption is the stuff of 19th century Russian novels. The final scene of the play, when Edmond is in the cell with another prisoner talking about the supreme animals from outer space and quoting Hamlet, is the most moving thing he's ever written."

Lage called the story "A dark spiral. Thank god it's just a play. It's an amazing ride to the dark side for Edmond. But 'every fear hides a wish,' and in the end, after he's vented his homophobic and racist panic, he seems to have found true happiness, as disturbing as it is. Just an incredible journey that the actor takes during the course of this play… As an NYU intern in 1982, I house-managed the original New York production at the Provincetown Playhouse and got to see Colin Stinton in the title role dozens of times. For me, Colin perfectly embodied the staid, buttoned-up model of white collar middle-class repression. Restless, mid-life crisis pulling at him, he walks out on his wife and so begins his descent into New York's underbelly… The actor playing Edmond must curry empathy while being emasculated at the beginning of the play, convincingly tap into adrenaline-fueled blind rage in the midsection of the play, and evince a tenderness and beatitude by play's end. A great challenge, immensely rewarding for an actor who can pull it off."