Friday, November 20, 2009

Montevallo "On the Verge"

Eric Overmeyer's 1985 "On the Verge, or: The Geography of Yearning" is currently playing in the University of Montevallo's Chichester Theatre. -- The "Chi Box" has fewer than 50 seats and is set up in arena style, providing a lot of intimacy for this witty journey of allusions and illusions...the story of three intrepid Victorian women explorers seeking independence from the world of men as they both literally and figuratively hack their way through "Terra Incognita": the unknown land.

Probably the biggest challenge to the trio of women is Overmeyer's dense script, one that is simultaneously witty and stuffy. Victorian sensibilities are expressed in the more formal language of 1888, while the women's attitudes and experiences are infused with apparent anachronistic references to more modern times. -- In fact, they are travelling both through the Antipodes, Africa and Tibet, and through time, winding up in 1955 in America. As they travel, their language adapts to these changes, and is especially rich in references to popular culture.

Fanny [Jerrica Cleckler] is the most conservative of the group and the only married one. Mary [Leslie Baird Hinson] seems to be the eldest and perhaps the least willing to change and the most intent on discovering new lands and her place in them. Alex [Marie Pope] is younger than the others, more forceful and flighty. -- Together, these actresses make a good ensemble who share stage time generously while developing the complexities of their individual characters as they yearn for self discovery.

And they have to manipulate an extensive number of "props" that signal the world ahead of them, much of which is managed with Overmeyer's humorous analysis of the contemporary world as they attempt to figure out the uses of such items as egg-beaters, Presidential campaign buttons, and cream cheese by use of osmosis.

Most of the dialogue is convincing, though a number of mispronunciations distract from its very precise intentions.

Appearances along the way by an assortment of characters -- real and imagined -- ranging from Fanny's husband Grover to a cannibal, a Yeti, a motorcycle-riding troll, and a gypsy [all played by David Wencil and Logan Reid], the women's journey takes a number of unexpected comedic twists, all the while keeping in mind the script's and director Tammy Killian's focus on the play's feminist themes.

These are intelligent women who have been subjected to men all their lives. Risking their lives and reputations by daring such a journey without any men along and completely without the usual male porters, the bravery inherent in all women is highlighted. They yearn for independence and for knowledge. As they encounter the future with every step, their knowledge of themselves increases also. Though Fanny says that time travel is a risky business, Alex advises them to embrace the future with all their hearts.

Content with the world of 1955, Fanny and Alex settle there, while Mary, ever restless, must continue as a solo sojourner, and fulfills the sub-title of the play -- the geography of yearning.