"LADIES! Shall we bushwhack?" With these words, exuberantly uttered in the opening minutes of On The Verge, a trio of sharp-witted Victorian adventuresses launch an expedition that will take them to the ends of the known world--and beyond.
Call it a metaphysical comedy. Or a philosophical farce. It's the tale of three female world travelers, already ahead of their time, who become accidental tourists into America's future, simultaneously gaining and losing something during their long, strange trip.
Eric Overmyer's verbally audacious play, directed by Mollie Boice, opens the 2001 season of SRJC's Summer Repertory Theatre, which is celebrating its 30th year.
Beginning in the year 1888, On the Verge introduces us to Mary, Fanny, and Alexandra, three globetrotting friends who share a mutual scientific curiosity, a heightened facility for language, and an intoxicating sense of wanderlust.
Mary (Holly Jeane), an anthropologist hoping to impress the National Geographic Society into making her a member, and Fanny (Carianne Wrona), an edgy adventurer with a special interest in the foods of other cultures, patiently endure the constant lyrical wordplay of Alexandra (Vanessa Severo).
On their increasingly surreal expedition through a place they call Terra Incognita, the women are good-natured competitors, wittily debating the merits of trousers as compared to petticoats, which Mary has sworn by ever since her own parachutelike petticoats saved her from certain death on a bed of bungee sticks. Or something.
The plot, such as it is, is far less important here than the language, a nearly overwhelming parade of rhymes, alliterations, and metaphors that must be as much fun to speak as they are to hear.
As the friends climb mountains and hack their way through jungles--assisted by the two black-clad "sherpas" (Overmyer's answer to stagehands) that occupy the stage throughout the play, usually becoming bushes or chairs, dropping ropes, or making animal noises--they begin to experience odd intrusions from the future.
Egg beaters drop from the trees at the women's feet--"A marsupial unicycle!" declares Alex--and cartons of something called "cream cheese" appear in Fanny's baggage. Their speech becomes increasingly peppered with odd words and phrases ("Wow!" and "Cool Whip"), as they become channels for the future, fast becoming a part of their consciousness. "Like . . . mustard gas," suggests Fanny, only to state, a few seconds later (once her consciousness has absorbed what mustard gas actually is), "Oh. Unfortunate metaphor. I withdraw it."
Soon the women encounter a series of men--a cannibal, a yeti, a gas station attendant, a casino singer, all played by the versatile Richard Wylie--as they move rapidly toward the social innovations and verbal collapses of the 1950s. "I have seen the future," says Fanny, "and it is slang."
Dazzled by rock and roll and the miracle of Jacuzzis, the adventurers begin to doubt they will ever find their way back to the past--and wonder if they still even want to.
The cast is uniformly magnificent, with each of the core actresses giving a flawless performance. And some of Boice's staging is delightfully clever.
But the production, on opening night at least, was marred by technical difficulties and awkward transitions. In one sequence, the piped-in jungle noises were so loud that the actors' lines couldn't all be heard, a problem that also occurs when cellophane paper is distractingly crinkled onstage to simulate a campfire. When the sherpas, moving in the dark, produce a dangling snowflake prop from behind the facade, it is done loudly, with bangs and thumps that momentarily ruin the drama taking place elsewhere on the stage.
One hopes these minor problems will be repaired over the next few performances, so that future audiences with discover, without interruption, the many pleasures and treasures awaiting them On the Verge.
'On the Verge' continues in rotating repertory with five other SRT productions through Aug. 9 at Santa Rosa Junior College, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. Call for dates and times. Tickets are $12. 707/527-4343.
From the June 21-27, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.