Unlike many senior theses in the Theater and Dance department, Alistair Edwards’ ’22 “Boundless” had no stage or costumes. It took place in a bare studio with only eight rows of chairs and four tall, electronic speakers creating a bubble of sound. “Boundless,” which ran on March 25 and 26, is a radio play that, without live actors, utilized lighting and sound design to create a truly spectacular and multidimensional production.
The play follows Eddie, a young man played by Christian Daniels ’23 who, after his premature death, becomes a guest on God’s radio show. God, played by Gina Pasciuto, a junior at Mount Holyoke College, judges Eddie’s life “in front of a live studio audience on Afterlife TV!” — presenting evidence in the form of defining moments from his life to decide his eternal fate.
In Exhibit A, Eddie is a high schooler with his friend Henry, who is played by Ayo Eniola ’24. They are waiting for an Uber to leave a party when the police show up. Eddie and Henry are both Black, which is established during this scene by the play's first physical description, setting up a racial tension that carries throughout the play. The police demand to search them, and since Henry has weed, they run into the forest and hide in a bush. Eddie pushes Henry out of the bush so that he can make a run for it, and the scene ends with the cops finding Henry, but not Eddie.
Eddie begins arguing with God about what happened, but she jumps instead to Exhibit B, where Eddie is going grocery shopping with his girlfriend, played by Yaffa Segal ’25, who has just moved to D.C. They have a conversation about gentrification and how his girlfriend now lives in a food desert, although Eddie insists that she’ll begin to love D.C. While racial tensions aren’t explicitly addressed in this scene, their discussion of income inequalities and gentrification displays how race factors into much of Eddie’s life, even in the background. When they leave the grocery store, Eddie sees that his car is being broken into. He beats up the man trying to break in, even when his girlfriend begs him to stop.
Exhibit C shows Eddie trying to relax. The scene is not described, but the background noise paints a serene picture disrupted by Eddie’s intrusive thoughts, including one about how he could smash someone’s skull in with a cinder block. He tries desperately to ignore them, but they only get stronger. The lights grow red, the sound booms, and when a passerby comes to ask Eddie if he is alright, he kills him.
God speaks to him non-confrontationally after this, to the point that the audience believes Eddie didn’t really kill anybody. Eddie explains this Rage as something that’s always been inside him, but that it doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person. He says that he always had to hide it, in order to appear non-threatening, and that he didn’t know how to control it. The audience desperately wants to believe that we’ve somehow interpreted Exhibit C wrong, but God confirms that Eddie did kill the person. Yet, the viewer still feels some sympathy with Eddie and desperately hopes that he will somehow make it to Heaven. Eddie begins to suspect that God has intentionally selected evidence to make him look bad, and he in calls his own evidence in an attempt to redeem himself. Right after he killed the passerby, he ran away, Rage still screaming in his head. He worries about how he would fare if the police found him, a mirror of the police brutality he experienced as a teenager. He promises to atone for his crimes and try to be a better person, but he gets hit by a truck before he can.
Does it make a difference that Eddie was trying to change, or did his actions outweigh his intentions? God argues that there is no way Eddie can justify himself as a good person after what he’s done, and she brings in Eddie's girlfriend and Henry as guest callers who say that they don’t think he can ever become a better person. Eddie grows angry, the lights go red, and he is sent to Hell. The audience is left in the dark, hoping that — despite all that he had done — Eddie could have gotten a second chance.
From my perspective, “Boundless” is a play about morality in an immoral world. Can you be a good person when everything is against you? It is obvious that Eddie wanted to be a good person, but when facing racial discrimination and his mental health struggles, he thought he had no choice but to do what he did. He is a person who acted on impulse, but he is judged against the metric of a perfect human being.
Although “Boundless” was written as a radio play, it was not strictly performed as one, making effective use of the studio space to imitate a radio recording studio mixed with memories. Lighting was one aspect of this, as bright lights washed over the studio when God was interviewing Eddie, then dimmed each time a new piece of evidence was shown. The most creative use of the lighting in this work came when Rage entered, washing the studio in red. When Eddie is sent to Hell and the radio show ends, the lights abruptly cut off, leaving the audience in darkness. The positioning of the chairs also added to the performance. While the rows were facing each other for sound design purposes, this also contributed to a feeling of togetherness in the audience. We realize that we are the live studio audience that God speaks of. Staring at the faces of everyone else in the audience allowed you to feel the full emotional impact of Eddie’s decisions and ultimate demise.
Edwards says that his thesis process was different than he expected it to be. “I thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was [to write the play] … It took about six months.” He cast the play, and they began rehearsing over Zoom in late January. “After about a month, we went over to Seeley Mudd [Building] and went to the recording booths in IT. We went scene by scene, improvising lines sometimes. It was a lot of fun.” He then spent about a month mixing the sound and composing the music before the play was complete.
When asked why he wrote a radio play, Edwards said, “I wanted to see if I could tell an effective story with as little visual media as possible … I was inspired by a lot of the NPR shows that my dad would put in the background of long car rides when I was younger.”
It is clear that “Boundless” is most effective in radio format. With just the sound, you feel the same panic and tension as Eddie without being distracted by anything else. Edwards’ background is in music and sound design, so it’s no surprise that the background noise and special effects used in the play were incredibly effective, making for an unforgettable senior thesis.
You can listen to “Boundless” here.