You Carry What You Collect: ON THE VERGE

Photo snagged from New Rep website

Photo snagged from New Rep website

Presented by New Repertory Theatre
By Eric Overmyer
Directed by Jim Petosa

May 3 – 25, 2014
Arsenal Center for the Arts
Charles Mosesian Theater
Watertown, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

(Watertown) It is deeply refreshing to see women amidst the revels of their maturity being embraced by playwrights as the medium for their works. There aren’t enough chewy roles for women past the age of ingenue naivete that embrace life beyond mother or spinsterhood. As an actress and feminist critic, it was a pleasure to watch On the Verge. Playwright Eric Overmyer has given Boston and its actors a gift and it is my hope that the community embraces it.

On the Verge is about three intrepid female explorers in search of adventure in Terra Incognita. While collecting data, photos and samples, our heroines spelunk and hack their way to new territory in space and time. The characters are based on actual accounts of Victorian-era lady explorers who defied the conventions of the time. They sought independence in the wilds beyond Westernized civilization and found it.

This production is food for the developed brain. It is thought provoking and comedic in ways that will leave those who are not well-read, well-cultured, and historically cognizant confused. Many of the jokes are based on word games or require a quick wit and wide range of knowledge to digest. Overmyer’s jokes are funny – but not to everyone. His writing assumes that his heroines were set to impress companions with conversation (whether they understood each other or not). He expects the same from his audience and assumes that you will keep up.  Like trekking through the jungle, if you do not keep up, you will be left behind.

The program includes notes from the production by dramaturg Ruth Spack. In her notes she explains that the women rarely published the details of their adventures. When they did, commentary on their personal lives was seldom included. They focused on scientific observation: anthropological, cartographical, and chemical. This detachment affects Overmyer’s writing both positively and negatively. While his research is thorough, attention to this detail prevents character development of any true depth. Overmyer gives his heroines only brief shining moments to grow as people. We experience our heroines as mostly flat characters without personalities beyond the small talk and storytelling/boasting they share. While the source material may have been dry, these women certainly were not! Actors Christine Hamel, Adrianne Krstansky and Paula Langton do an admirable job of imbuing their dryly written characters with personality and spunk.  They are charming to watch and hear.

The ambiance set by designers Cristina Todesco (set), Mary Ellen Stebbins (lighting), and David Remedios (sound) is Acid-dropping Alice in Wonderland chic. The staging by Jim Petosa is playful and effective. We are given the impression that our heroines are playing serious pretend in a surreal landscape of their making. It is both amusing and contemplative.

Trigger warning: The characters in this production come from a colonialist school of thought. There is rampant racism, classism, and sexism. They are not used to provoke so much as to historically reenact with accuracy.

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