On the Verge, by the New Repertory Theater
On the Verge – Written by Eric Overmyer; Directed by Jim Petosa; Costumes Designed by Nancy Leary. Produced by the New Repertory Theater in the Charles Mosesian Theater, at 321 Arsenal St. in Watertown through May 25th.
About three quarters of the way through the first act of “On the Verge”, Eric Overmyer’s time-travel fantasy now playing at the New Rep in Watertown, I began to think about how I was going to write this review. The production reminded me of a New Rep production from earlier this season (Tongue of the Bird) that had the same elements – great actresses and clever dialogue – but a plot that was overshadowed by the cleverness of the writing. The trio of actresses (plus Benjamin Evett) for this production were also first rate, the dialogue was sharp and witty, and even the set was spare but otherworldly, but there was a real lack of clarity as to what I was watching and where it was going. So I went to my fallback position, ie intellectual insecurity, and figured I wasn’t getting it. But at intermission, I overheard a well-dressed 60-ish woman say to her companion, “this (play) is really strange. I’m not sure I know what’s going on.” And I thanked her for making me realize that it wasn’t just me. Which doesn’t mean I wasn’t enjoying it, I was just a little, well, confused. But right before the end of the first act, something started to change and that set the tone for the thoroughly enjoyable second half.
The first act opens in 1888, with three elegant, erudite explorers – actually anthropologists – embarking on a journey through time and space (which is referred to as Terra Incognita) to various jungles, ice floes, and high into the Himalayas; each is armed with only an opaque umbrella and a knapsack. They use their umbrellas as machetes to hack through the jungle underbrush and to ward off unfriendly “natives” all the while regaling each other with tales of past adventures using language that would make William F. Buckley sound like a hick. But their storytelling is so is so steeped in cleverness that it made me wonder if the characters were really actually having any fun on these adventures. Towards the end of the first act, they mysteriously begin to loosen up, as slang terms from the 1950’s begin appearing inappropriately in their overly structured dialogue. They also encounter a biker/actor (Evett) who is like no-one they have ever encountered before. Tough, flirtatious and macho, he sets the table for their entry into a completely wild new dimension of life in the second act.
And what a fun second act. After encounters with a series of characters portrayed by Evett, the women begin to loosen up both their tongues and attitudes and for the first time in their otherwise sterile lives and begin to actually enjoy life. And it’s through the change in language that it’s made possible, as they began using the vernacular and adopting the lifestyle of 50’s folk. In a dream-like sequence, one character named Fanny (Adrianne Krstansky) says to a character she calls ‘Mr. Coffee’, “I have seen the future and it is slang. Let me tell you something, Mr. Coffee, in the future, language takes a beating.” But it is just that change in language that sets her and her companions free of the bondage of their Victorian existence. There are lots of references to Cool Whip, Noxema, “Ike” Eisenhower, and Burma Shave, so this play really lends itself to a slightly older set. But there are lots of laughs throughout for anyone, regardless of age, if they can trust the script long enough for a very funny (and fun) payoff.
The acting performances are terrific in this show, particularly once the female characters shed their stodgy and proper exteriors and begin to let their hair down. Christine Hamel is utterly charming as Alexandra, the youngest of the trio, and her transformation is the most fun to watch. Krstansky and Paula Langton also deliver terrific performances and Evett is dynamite in multiple roles from a German cannibal (don’t ask) to a lounge singer/nightclub owner. This show is probably not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of a more intellectual brand of comedy, this show delivers. For additional info, go to: http://www.newrep.org/
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