There is an Edward in the neighbourhood where I live, and Edwards the world over, from traffic-choked cities to dusty villages and all points in between. They are our next door neighbours, and sometimes our next-of-kin. There are Edwards everywhere and yet they are nowhere, often invisible because they are often ignored. Or they are maligned and misunderstood, pushed farther into the margins. The wonderful appeal of Marie Day’s Edward the ‘Crazy Man’ is that she plucks Edward from the fringes of society and plants him where he can be seen and heard. And it is a young boy who listens.
The story of the unlikely bond between Edward and Charlie is inherently theatrical: what better place to explore the world of schizophrenia than on stage, especially when your protagonist has a gift for original and outlandish costumes? Sounds, silence, music and movement can all be harnessed to tell Edward’s layered story.
It is a story that took several drafts to develop. Earlier versions featured an adult Charlie reflecting on a life-altering bond through flashbacks. Lewis only surfaced in later drafts, a doorway into Edward’s past and a peephole into the pain that shadows him still. Adapting Marie’s book meant taking the colourful threads of her tale and weaving them into another story that is both the same and different. And so the essential bond between Charlie and Edward has been preserved on stage but new voices have been added into the mix. We meet Abby, Charlie’s mother, and watch her navigate through her own conflicting feelings toward Edward. Charlie’s stage journey begins with two friends and ends with three. Unlike the book, we don’t follow Charlie into adulthood. All we know is that Charlie and Edward plan to meet the first Tuesday of every month. Edward hopes it is forever. Charlie can only promise that it is for now. That is what made transforming this story into a stage play so gratifying: there is an intimacy and immediacy to theatre that underscores its power not to predict but to reveal. You can’t skip ahead five chapters. You can’t grab a remote and fast-forward. You can only immerse yourself in the moment. By play’s end, Charlie’s future, like Edward’s, is unknowable. But what is beyond dispute is that each is richer for having met each other.
My goal in adapting Edward for the stage was to marry text and movement in ways that don’t dissect schizophrenia so much as cast a colourful light on it. It is because the topic matter is as serious as it is that I felt the play should be served on a platter featuring lively characters and punchy dialogue. The challenge was creating a work that is faithful to both the sensitive subject matter and the sensibilities of young audiences. I spoke with individuals who have lived with schizophrenia who generously shared their insights with me. I was given a sense of how those with schizophrenia filter their surroundings visually and aurally by immersing myself in a video and audio experience designed by a drug company to recreate a world that is foreign to most of us.
Theatre can make the foreign seem familiar. It can peel back the layers that mask or insulate the Edwards in our midst. A work like Edward the ‘Crazy Man’ – on the page or on stage – can help initiate a dialogue amongst children and adults that can shape (and reshape) attitudes, or at least affirm that the disenfranchised we see on the streets deserve our attention. At one level, all of us – young and old – have voices in our head. Let Edward be part of the conversation.