BWW Review: ON THE VERGE OR THE GEOGRAPHY OF YEARNING at Forge Repertory Theatre
December 6, 2019 marks the inaugural presentation of Kansas City's new Forge Repertory Theatre. The first production is TV writer Eric Overmyer's 1985 comic fantasy "On The Verge or The Geography of Yearning" performed at Heidi Van's Black Box Theatre in the West Bottoms area of Kansas City.
"On The Verge" is a clever, two and a half hour long, non-sequitur writing exercise with one intermission. It is a challenging choice for a first effort because of the constant comic demands it makes on its actors to bring off irony after irony. It is in much the same vein as when the original cast of "Laugh-In" performed their weekly cocktail party. Playwright Overmyer's love of his own "Twisted Sister" sense of humor probably reads funnier than it plays.
Three women, supposedly Victorian era explorers from the late 1880s, come ashore on a strange, new, jungled land they call Terra Incognita (the unknown land). It seems like they have arrived via long boat. We hear the ocean breaking on the shore in the background.
Mary, Fanny, and Alex begin by hauling ashore their camping gear and packs before taking a short inventory of their provisions. The three characters, Mary (Nancy Marcy), Fanny (Sonia Gwin), and Alex (Annie Schwaner), are not quite sure where they have landed. They begin to obsessively take notes and photographically document their experience. It soon becomes clear that the land they are in is unknown mainly to only them. It is more familiar to the audience as an off-kilter time travel adventure.
I've been trying to imagine what was going through the playwright's head as he wrote "On The Verge." Keeping in mind that I am writing thirty-five years into the future of a writer who is writing thirty five years in the past from the perspective of people eighty-five years into his past and is a man trying to write from a feminist point of view, I was able to come up with a scenario. Confused yet?
Picture a female version of Journalist Henry Stanley and two companions hacking through the jungle in desperate search of Dr. Stanley Livingstone. They finally find Livingstone having lunch at a Burger King outside of Terre Haute, Indiana.
Anyways, the ladies meet up with eight odd characters mainly from the 1950s along the way. These are all played by a single actor (Jace Willcutt) who also serves as kind of a break the fourth wall narrator in addition to the eight on/off characters. There are a number of freeze frames where one or another of the characters explains what is going on from his or her point of view while the rest freeze.
Two of Stanley's companions decide to stay in the area and settle near the Burger King. One finds a new husband and enjoys their apartment complex's communal Jacuzzi. The second becomes a copywriter at an ad agency. Our female Stanley decides to sally forth and search for Jean Luc Picard's Enterprise in the 23rd century.
All this is a worthy attempt at fantasy with particular attention paid to lights and sound. This is a worthy first attempt at an interesting idea. I mean by this "the theater company" in particular in addition to this specific show. Director of "On The Verge" is Ryan Fortney.
Repertory, from this point of view, means that several emerging artists have been hired for the run of the season as a professional entry point to show business. Two additional productions will complete the 2020 season.
The five founders of Forge intend to create an ongoing project with the most altruistic of motives. The goals are to provide that artist entry point while making new kinds of works available at prices an audience can afford to pay. We wish them well as their project develops.
"On the Verge" continues through December 15. Tickets and/or reservations are available at www.forgerep.org or by telephone at 816.226.7154. The Black Box is located at 1060 Union Ave in the West Bottoms neighborhood of Kansas City. Leave yourself a little extra time when attending because of street construction in the area.
Photos courtesy of Forge Repertory Theatre.