Skip the fall down Wonderland’s rabbit hole and check out this bizarre yet unique look at time travel through the eyes of demure but adventurous Victorian ladies.
On The Verge, or The Geography of Yearning as staged by Jackson Phippin is chock full of good things. In the hands of anyone other than this innovative director and four talented actors, however, it could also be a complete disaster, hopelessly lost in its own time-space continuum. Clearly, Phippin has a love for this piece; he staged its premiere 25 years ago.
Even with Rep Stage’s bold and interesting production, it’s far too long, coming in at 2.5 hours with over an hour of the first act focusing on the more obscure locations/periods, and it’s dialogue too often is loaded down with pretentious wordplay. It made it a little difficult to enjoy the less structured and more entertaining second act.
Rep Stage is a brave company with a proven track record. To go from their stellar production of the classic Glass Menagerie in February to this avant garde, out-of-the-mainstream piece in one breath shows their daring.
The performances by the three travelers: Mary (Leigh Jameson), Fanny (Natasha Staley), and Alexandra (Tiffany Fillmore) are marvelous. Mary is the clear leader, a self described metaphysicist, anthropologist, and Neolithic “man”. She is dry in her wit, filled with wanderlust yet patience, and at all times remains self assured. Jameson finds each facet of a role that could become abrasive or a stereotype, and humanizes her beautifully.
Staley (Fanny) revels in the language of her character, savoring it with bite and excellent comedic timing. She is the conservative of the group, the wife who has left her husband behind to travel, the woman who changes the most during this journey.
Fillmore’s Alexandra is adorably young and fearless. She renders her with great spirit, headstrong, quirky, and charming.
There is a fantastic chemistry between all three women. They have their own goals and personalities, but mesh well together. Some of the best moments included the ladies gleaning futuristic tidbits through “osmose.”
Duane Boutte as the sole man of the group (portraying several different men) is superb. Standouts include his Alsace Lorraine soldier, aw shucks gas attendant, baby yeti, and Dean Martinesqe lounge owner…all were given great and memorable characterizations. Boutte’s voice is extremely throaty, husky, and distinct. He did a few different dialects admirably and earned many laughs with his affected poses and expressive face.
The show portrays women with such lovely contrast and depth. Yes, they hold onto their proper sensibilities: afternoon tea in the jungle, parasols, powdering their noses, and absolutely NO trousers in sight. But they are also terribly courageous, piercing, hilariously funny, self absorbed but kind…never one dimensional as so many women of the period are often depicted.
The gorgeous lighting design, set pieces, and props assisted with the time/place changes, but it was the ladies themselves who evoked such strong established moods with their body language and careful choreography.
Dan Covey’s lighting design is exquisite, from the mottled and earthy shades of the jungle greens to luminous washes of indigo on the falling snow. Chas Marsh used just enough sound and music to enhance, not overpower, the production.
Denise Umland’s costumes were a fascinating blend of new and old – the ladies were garbed in the most washable and wearable Victorian dresses ever seen. The many imaginative costumes for Mr. Boutte were also spot on.
While the set (Richard Montgomery) was delectably thought out and executed wonderfully, the hefty bags hanging at the back of the stage detracted a bit from the overall design. As the curtain opened to the first act, there was a collective gasp of wonder from the audience as the ladies were revealed in their hot air balloon. At first bathed in an incandescent glow, the white plastic bags appeared to be shimmering icebergs in the distance, or splendid mountains, or frosted clouds. Unfortunately, as the scenes progressed…they just looked like shredded plastic. That said, everything else had such amazing attention to detail…the props by Liza Davies were a marvel…especially the “rainforest of fossils from the future.”
The seamless manner that set/scene changes were handled was terrific…the cast often doubled as running crew, but even when there were a few black-clad hands, all went smoothly. And there were sights to behold-the gas station from 1955, Nicky’s lounge complete with grand piano, the dragon lady’s kiosk on wheels, the boat…the designers here must be applauded.
I wish that everyone had been miked. I had no trouble hearing anyone, but only because they were shouting for nearly the entire show. It would have been nice to hear some different vocal dynamics with the aid of technology.
The greatest flaws are within the play itself: the jokes become repetitive, the dialogue too highbrow, and simply too long. It does have clever concepts, in the unusual presentation of dialogue and elaborate maze of words. But the playwright is sorely in need of an editor – too many self serving passages takes away from what is so right with the show, and highlights what is wrong.
Be prepared for the new world of “Terra Incognita.” It is a sweeping walk/run/ride/float on the wild side. If you’re a traditionalist seeking mainstream, leisurely entertainment, On the Verge is not for you. However, Rep Stage’s production of On the Verge is certainly rare and ground-breaking, and, if you have a spirit of adventure, is divinely worth it.
On The Verge, or The Geography of Yearning
By Eric Overmyer
directed by Jackson Phippin
produced by Rep Stage
reviewed by McCall Noelle Doyle
On the Verge, or The Geography of Yearning plays through May 2, 2010.
Click here for Details, Directions and Tickets.