BWW Review: ON THE VERGE: Long Day's Journey Into 1955
On the Verge
Written by Eric Overmyer, Directed by Jim Petosa; Scenic Designer, Cristina Todesco; Costume Designer, Nancy Leary; Lighting Designer, Mary Ellen Stebbins; Sound Designer, David Remedios; Stage Manager, Marsha Smith
CAST: Benjamin Evett, Christine Hamel, Adrianne Krstansky, Paula Langton
Performances through May 25 at New Repertory Theatre, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA; Box Office 617-923-8487 or www.newrep.org
Eric Overmyer is an award-winning multi-hyphenate, boasting a lengthy resumé as playwright, screenwriter, and television producer. His craftsmanship as a writer and facility with language is clearly on display in On the Verge, his 1985 play about three time-traveling, Victorian-era women, now on stage at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown. Artistic Director Jim Petosa directs a quartet of accomplished actors in this feminist fantasy as they set out to explore "Terra Incognita" and find themselves in mid-20th century America.
Paula Langton (Mary), Adrianne Krstansky (Fanny), and Christine Hamel (Alex) have chemistry together as the independent, intrepid trio and Benjamin Evett plays seven different characters who they encounter on their journey. It is a credit to his talent that Evett makes it look easy covering the range of roles, from a cannibal to a Yeti, from a beat poet to the angel of death, and from a gum-chewing teenage grease monkey to a seductive lounge lizard, and that he's having fun doing it.
By contrast, the women have to work harder to tell the voluminous back stories that Overmyer has imagined for each of their characters. The basic plot follows their exploration of "Terra Incognita," but they spend their time recounting their past adventures and comparing their new surroundings to places they have been. The action of the play is minimal and therefore they talk...a lot. Their dialogue features lots of anthropological terms and wordplay, including healthy servings of one-upmanship and braggadocio. As they progress further into the new world, at the end of the first act they suddenly become aware that they are traveling forward through time as well as space, opening their eyes to the many possibilities of the future.
Overmyer has some fun introducing Mary, Fanny, and Alex to household items (egg beaters), political candidates (Ike), slang expressions ("See you later, alligator"), and music ("Rock Around the Clock") that they would never know about in their own time. He dubs the process of absorbing the future as "osmosing;" when the characters experience this, the actors put their hands to the sides of their heads as if they are receiving a mental transmission, peer off into the distance, and recite a litany of words or phrases which constantly surprises them. It conveys the phenomenon, but it happens so many times in act two that it loses its punch. When the women are immersed in 1955 American pop culture, Fanny and Alex succumb to its allure and carve out new lives for themselves, but Mary is still drawn to the road and opts to search for more discoveries.
On the Verge is a play about empowerment and discovering possibilities, and it manages to capture the feeling of stepping into the unknown, partly because we don't know where the play is going. It is the playwright's paean to language and the art of the spoken word which, for me, is both its blessing and its curse. The numerous scene changes are indicated by projected titles (á la silent films) and minor alterations of the set (the actors slide panels made of bubble wrap stretched on a metal framework), but it is a daunting challenge to one's imagination to keep up and try to visualize their location. On the night that I attended, a noticeable portion of the audience gave up at intermission, unwilling to punch their tickets for the rest of the journey.
It is unfortunate that these committed actors had to face the loss of some of their traveling companions, but perhaps it can be seen as a metaphor for a theme from the play. When young Alex is excited about the future and tries to cajole conservative Fanny into embracing it, the latter says grudgingly that she only has to accept it. Although she changes her tune in the second act, Fanny chooses not to go any further than 1955 and gets off the ride, letting Mary continue solo on her expedition to discover new worlds.
Photo credit: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures (Paula Langton, Christine Hamel, Adrianne Krstansky, Benjamin Evett)