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On the Verge

A smart, surreal journey through time, space, manners and fashion taking three intrepid travelers on a path to self-understanding.

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Ella Dershowitz, Monette Magrath, Emily Kitchens and William John Austin in a scene from “On the Verge” (Photo credit: Natalie Artemyeff)

Ella Dershowitz, Monette Magrath, Emily Kitchens and William John Austin in a scene from “On the Verge” (Photo credit: Natalie Artemyeff)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

The Attic Theater Company’s production of Eric Overmyer’s 1985 On the Verge or, the Geography of Yearning, an imaginative, absurdist tale of sly era shifting, takes three intrepid Victorian Era American ladies on the journey of their lives.  They trek through time, space, geography and upheavals in mores, manners and fashion on Julia Noulin-Mérat’s clever, efficiently designed set in which a forest of vertical pipes, several low platforms, some rope and sheets of waving black plastic bits served as jungles, mountains, glaciers, a gas station and even a honky-tonk nightclub.  Daniel B. Chapman’s pinpoint lighting complemented Ms. Noulin-Mérat’s efforts perfectly.

Overmyer’s play brings these courageous, if somewhat foolhardy, explorers together to share their explorations of “Terra Incognita,” landing somewhere in the mythical Antipodes in the 1880’s.  (“Terra Incognita” and “Antipodes” are two words repeated endlessly.)  The play is divided into twenty-two sections whose titles—“Taking Stock,” “Native Chop,” “Fort Apache,” “Fanmail from the Future,” “Woody’s Esso,” “The Geography of Yearning,” etc.—are announced by a rich-voiced narrator, Paige LaRoss.

Garbed in droll evocations of multi-layered feminine Victorian explorer-wear (designed by Emily Rosenberg with an eye to the metaphorical journey they will find themselves on), frothy Alex (Ella Dershowitz), coolly feminine Fanny (Emily Kitchens) and born leader Mary (Monette Magrath) slash their way through every impediment, stopping to take stock of their supplies (including a blonde wig!), take “Kodaks,” write diaries and postcards, or check their maps.  All the while, they chatter endlessly about such subjects as manioc fritters, baths and loofahs, wearing pants rather than skirts.  (Alex keeps advocating that they wear pants, but Mary rebuffs her at every turn.)

Ella Dershowitz, Emily Kitchens and Monette Magrath in a scene from “On the Verge” (Photo credit: Natalie Artemyeff)

Ella Dershowitz, Emily Kitchens and Monette Magrath in a scene from “On the Verge” (Photo credit: Natalie Artemyeff)

They spew out tons of period jargon in Overmyer’s expert faux, but arch, evocation of the era.   There’s talk bountiful enough to fill three plays.  Strange things start happening, beginning with the discovery of an eggbeater and an odd button with writing they cannot decipher.  They also start speaking in tongues, uncontrollably bringing up anachronistic words:  Mrs. Butterworth, Cool Whip, the National Review, cream cheese, Burma Shave, dirigibles, motorcycles, TV show titles, the World Series, and the names of future presidents.

Their adventurous trek is interrupted with visitations by a number of men, all played by William John Austin:  a German military man, Alphonse who takes a rather fanciful tea with the women; Fanny’s husband Grover who visits her in a fantasy and to whom she tries to be loyal as decades roll by; a Yeti who both frightens and amuses them; a Troll who vexes them as they cross a rope bridge; Mr. Coffee, a romantic figure who delivers news from the future; Gus, an eager teenager; Nicky Paradise, a smooth-talking nightclub owner, and others.  Mr. Austin does a great job morphing from one character to the other aided by Ms. Rosenberg’s witty costumes.  Attractive in one character and annoying in another, he carefully makes the most of each of these short-lived apparitions.

As the women find themselves further and further in the future, it is how each reacts and is forever changed that give the play its emotional weight.  Two manage to adjust quite well; one not so much.  The whirlwind of mid-twentieth century America takes its toll on these intelligent travelers, outwardly in their clothing and inwardly on their attitudes toward life.  The paths each takes at the end of On the Verge aren’t just theatrically satisfying—having been telegraphed subtly in many ways—but actually quite moving.  Suddenly Overmyer, with the decided support of three fine actresses, ably directed by the astute Laura Braza, turns these silly, living cartoons into flesh and blood.  And, that is the real journey of On the Verge.

On the Verge or, The Geography of Yearning (through July 9, 2016)

The Attic Theater Company at Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-868-4444 (SmartTix) or visit http://www.TheAtticTheaterCo.com

Running time: two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (269 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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