David Mamet's one-act play Edmond premiered Off-Broadway in 1982 and has slipped into obscurity in the years since, overshadowed by Mamet's American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, Oleanna, and other oft-revived chestnuts. There's good reason for that: Edmond lacks those plays' nuance and polish, the characters have no life beyond their function in the leading man's personal odyssey, and it remains, to say the least, an uncomfortable viewing experience. And yet, for these very reasons, Edmond feels like raw, undiluted Mamet, a sharp encapsulation of career-running themes in the form of a street-corner rant. Handed over to director Stuart Gordon, the gothic stylist best known for his cult hit Re-Animator, the new film adaptation works as a tough, flavorful dark night of the soul, as a middle-aged drone finally has his moment of clarity, which looks a lot like madness.
Working without a safety net, William H. Macy brings unblinking conviction, even a dangerous sort of righteousness, to the role of a man whose bilious monologues often drip with racist and homophobic invective, and whose adventures lead to humiliation and violence. One night after a particularly irksome day on the grind, Macy stops by a fortuneteller, who shows him a gruesome series of tarot cards and informs him that he isn't where he belongs. With that little push, Macy decides to abandon his loveless marriage to wife Rebecca Pidgeon and hit the streets in search of instant gratification. He proves an easy mark for swindlers, from a series of painted ladies (Denise Richards, Mena Suvari, and Bai Ling) who try to sweet-talk him out of money to the three-card monte dealers who rob him blind. When a pimp corners him in an alley, Macy finally leverages the upper hand, but his empowerment propels him toward a grave sequence of events.
Part of what makes Edmond so powerful is that Macy's character isn't terribly far removed from the noble, beaten-down clock-punchers that Mamet tends to celebrate in his work. His job and his marriage have left him feeling voiceless and emasculated, and Mamet doesn't put himself at that great a distance from the character, even when he's clearly flown off the rails. Nevertheless, Edmond would probably be completely unapproachable were it not spiked with so much dark wit, much of it coming from Macy's painful naïveté and cheapness, which comes through in negotiations with various women of the night. (He feeds a peepshow girl a $20 bill through the slot and asks for change.) In the end, the play may be a rough sketch of more sophisticated works to come, but the years haven't weakened its punch.