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On the Verge (or the Geography of Yearning)

Playing with Words and Pop-Culture References Proves Tedious

Rep Stage
Leigh Jameson, Tiffany Fillmore, and Natasha Staley get the lay of the land.

By By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 4/30/2010

On the Verge (or the Geography of Yearning)

By Eric Overmyer

Through May 2 at Rep Stage

The first thing of note at a recent Saturday night performance of On the Verge (or the Geography of Yearning) was the number of empty seats. Only the middle section of the theater was full, which is unusual at Rep Stage performances, and that middle section got sparse after intermission.

The play, by Eric Overmyer—co-creator and co-executive producer for David Simon's HBO series Treme—was a challenging choice for the theater. Its plays on language and lack of fluid plot make the audience work more than a straightforward narrative would. Still, the job of director is to take something as tricky as this and make it resonate. Jackson Phippin failed to do so, which is surprising as he helmed the play’s professional debut at CenterStage in 1985.

On the Verge is about three female Victorian explorers who team up—sans sherpas—to explore terra incognita. Mary (Leigh Jameson) is scientifically minded. She wants data, samples, and measurements. Fanny (Natasha Staley) writes about her travels for a tabloid magazine and relishes exciting interactions with natives. Alex (Tiffany Fillmore), the youngest of the group, has a penchant for icy climes and the fantastical. She is also the only one of the ladies who feels that wearing trousers is preferable to petticoats. Despite the fact that they are explorers, Mary and Fanny are proper Victorian ladies.

As the women explore the wild, untamed land, they realize that something is amiss. Strange words keep popping into their mouths—spontaneous anachronisms the women themselves don’t understand. When a man dressed in greaser glory says they must give him money to cross a bridge—all in rhyme with a beat-poet swing—Alex responds, “A troll toll? How droll, but not quite Robert Lowell," and then shrugs adding, "Whoever that is.” Eventually they figure out that they are traveling in time, as well as space, and are soaking up information about each year as they go.

In between pantomimed bushwacking, each explorer addresses the audience, telling of her past adventures. The women all speak in a very stylized manner. Fanny, in particular, comes off as cartoonish, all pursed lips and buggy eyes. Alex is the most engaging of the three women, as Fillmore actually seems to be having fun with the character. Duane Boutte plays all the male characters, from a swinging club owner to a cannibal that takes on the accents—including an Austrian one that would make Mel Brooks blush—and life experiences of the people he eats. Boutte is over-the-top, yelling many of his lines.

Richard Montgomery’s set is minimal and lovely, with occasional elaborate touches that really stand out—the balloon the women arrive in, a 1950s gas station. To differentiate scenes in the wide expanse of bluish white that is the stage for most of the play, easels come from the sides holding silent movie placards. It’s a cute idea but adds little.

The play picks up considerably after intermission, but the audience is never given a reason to care what happens to Fanny, Mary, and Alex. They never get a sense that their journey—or even whether or not they will be able to return to their own time period—is in any way important. As a result On the Verge feels like little more than a writing exercise.

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