Being Edmundo

Jennifer Haley's dalliance with a man who wants it all

Being Edmundo

Look at that picture. What is that? A man? A corpse? A zombie? The dead carcass of Western Civilization come home to roost?

Actually, it's a woman. Jennifer Haley, to be exact, dressed as the titular character in her new show Edmundo, which opens this week at the Blue Theater.

"I got the idea for Edmundo while I was playing a zombie in a play in Seattle four years ago," says Haley. "The director was pretty laid-back, so it was pretty much up to me to create this character. I had this set of fake teeth that my Mom had made for herself many years back, so I put them on and started building the character physically and eventually really got into it. I didn't feel like a woman." When the show was over, Haley found that she couldn't get the character out of her mind. He percolated for more than two years until, finally, she had to put pen to paper. "As it developed, I found that he actually isn't a zombie. He's a man who has lived a very long time, is totally decrepit, and his body is falling apart. He did a lot of pillaging in his day, but he also has a great zest for life, sensual and sexy. During the show, he recounts his indulgent past and tries to come to grips with it."

In May of 2001, Haley was working with Katie Pearl on another play, and over breakfast one day began talking about Edmundo. She asked the director if she wanted to work on it. "She already had some of it written when we first met, and immediately, from the first page, I fell in love with it," says Pearl. The pair developed the material at FronteraFest, where it won a Best of the Fest designation, and in a workshop production at the Blue, with Pearl's involvement proving to be invaluable. "Some of the structure of the piece," says Haley, "is completely Katie's. Some of the decisions I made as a writer were actually Katie's ideas." Haley performed Edmundo at the Vancouver and Seattle Fringe Festivals before bringing the show back to Austin.

When asked to pigeonhole the show, Haley says, "I'd call it a cabaret. There's this dark side to it, but there's this positive energy behind the darkness. He does musical numbers, original songs with music written by Will Walden, and there's a live band, the Unrequited Combo."

"What interests me about humans in general, and even about myself," says Haley, "is our need to own things. Edmundo can't appreciate something that's beautiful and desirable from afar. Part of what he wants is to actually own it somehow. And I think that's why we humans are where we're at. Having the appreciation of beautiful things is so specifically human and kind of wonderful, but that sense of needing to appropriate something is very interesting to me. Edmundo is a metaphor for the conquistadors coming to this beautiful land and needing to have it all. Not just a bit of it. Have it all." Like all the oil in the world, perhaps? Sounds like a play for our threatening times.

Edmundo runs Oct. 18-Nov. 9, at the Blue Theater, 916 Springdale. Call 927-1118 for information.

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Jennifer Haley, Edmundo, Katie Pearl, Will Walden, Unrequited Combo

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