By Vicki Paris Goodman
On the Verge, playwright Eric Overmyer’s extra-dimensional romp of a Victorian-era discovery tour, seemed largely to perplex its audience. And for good reason, I think.
Able castmembers Susan E. Taylor, Anna Kate Mohler and Harriet Whitmyer play a trio of skirt-clad lady explorers who largely embrace the challenges and dangers of frigid mountain climes, the wildest of jungles and everything in between to satisfy their wanderlust, or something. Or something.
Taylor’s character, Mary, isn’t compelled to write home as does Whitmyer’s journalist-by-trade Fanny. And she never complains of homesickness nor discomfort as does Mohler’s young, exuberant and talkative Alexandra. Mary seems content, capable and willing no matter what obstacle– geological, meteorological or beastly– the three encounter. What does it mean that one character seems more wholly committed, more completely suited to the undertaking than the others? Let’s try to figure this out together, shall we?
The three entertain themselves making up poems and rhymes, and telling stories, which ultimately convinces Mary that an expedition with others has its merits over going it alone. From this we are to derive what exactly? Still not sure.
Soon after their departure, Overmyer’s brave broads begin to utter words and phrases with which they are not familiar. And they encounter strange people (the entire disparate assortment played masterfully by Diego Parada) who offer what appear to be opportunities, answers and clues.
Once the women realize they are not only exploring geography, but in fact are travelling forward through time, they boldly go forth where no woman has gone before. Whoosh! (Sorry, couldn’t resist the Star Trek reference.)
More rhymes and stories ensue, along with an accelerated quantity of language-laden references to modern-day pop culture– everything from radio to TV dinners. (They even come across physical manifestations from the future, like a toaster oven and an inflatable plastic Chiquita banana.) Is Overmyer attempting to overwhelm us with the contrast between proper Victorian English and the butchered version of twentieth-century vernacular that make the two practically unrecognizable in comparison? If so, it’s a pretty effective ploy. But to what end?
The many scene “micro”-transitions feature a curious manual rearranging of the appendages of the most prominent prop on stage– what looks like an enormous two-dimensional tarantula. Are the adjustments intended to signal “bumps” through time?
Andrew Vonderschmitt directs this most unusual production, which held my attention despite the fact I had no idea what was going on. The play, so light on character development and cryptic with regard to character motivation, confuses the viewer more than it should.
That said, I think I’ve discerned Overmyer’s far too elusive purpose. Everything that happens in On the Verge is an offering of a time, a place or a situation. And perhaps these women are searching for their proper place and time. Do they find it? Maybe they do.
On the Verge continues in the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre through Saturday, Sept. 18. General admission tickets are $22; $20 for seniors. Student tickets are $12 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org.