September 11, 2007 -- FEW performers inhabit their characters with the intensity with which Angelica Torn plays Sylvia Plath in "Edge."
Paul Alexander's one-woman show provides this superb actress with a galvanizing showcase as the poet who ended her life at age 30, with her children in the next room.
Though "Edge" offers plenty of biographical detail, it's more of a psychoanalytic examination of its subject than a history. Set on the day of Plath's death, it begins with the haunting image of the writer sitting at her desk composing a suicide note, followed by an explanation of the events that led to her decision.
In the playwright's view, much of the blame lies with Plath's husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes, who left her for another woman. Fittingly, Plath spends much of the monologue venting her spleen, her obsessive love and erotic fervor for Hughes made vividly clear.
The piece itself isn't altogether successful. Clocking in at over two hours, it's as draining for the audience as it must be for its performer.
Not that you would know it from watching Torn, whose mesmerizing portrayal brings to mind her mother, Geraldine Page. (Her father, as you may have guessed, is Rip Torn.)
She delivers her words in a rushed, stream-of-consciousness style, as if Plath's emotions were too powerful to be contained, and doesn't shy from humor, however uncomfortable.
"I want to say this about razor blades," Plath says of her first suicide attempt. "They hurt."
Sadly, "Edge" doesn't include examples of Plath's poetry - apparently there are copyright issues - and there are times when it loses focus. But it manages, thanks to its gifted star, to bring to life a figure who's too often been reduced to a literary cliché.
ArcLight Theatre, 152 W. 71st St.; (212) 352-3101. Through Oct. 6.