Play: “On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning”
Group: Insight Theatre Company
Venue: Nerinx Hall, Heaney Theater, 530 East Lockwood
Dates: July 14, 15, 16, 17, 18
Tickets: $20-$30; contact 314-239-9040 or www.insighttheatrecompany.com
Story: A trio of intrepid Victorian adventurers named Mary, Fanny and Alexandra band together to explore a place they’ve dubbed Terra Incognita. As they traverse their unknown surroundings, eventually it becomes apparent to them that not only have they left familiar surroundings but also have somehow moved beyond the year 1888, the time of their departure. Furthermore, the ladies learn that, curiously, they are absorbing knowledge and information about these new times in a process that wannabe wordsmith Alex terms “osmosing.”
Highlights: First produced in 1985, this two-act comedy by Eric Overmyer is a clever, witty and engaging literary exercise that richly demonstrates the playwright’s intellectual dexterity and knack for catchy wordplay. Overmyer has built a more successful career behind the camera of such illustrious TV series as “St. Elsewhere,” “Law & Order” and “Homicide: Life on the Street,” but after 25 years “On the Verge” remains as enchanting and whimsical as its first production doubtless must have been.
Other Info: Director Maggie Ryan has enlisted the services of four grand and gifted performers to give the current production by Insight Theatre a nicely polished sheen. Those performances are key to the success of the presentation, as Ryan’s direction is much too slowly paced to fully mine the play’s buoyancy and infectious good nature. Thus, comic moments between various characters sometimes lack the bounce and verve that is there to be gleaned from Overmyer’s fanciful situations.
On the whole, though, it’s an entertaining enough evening, as Amy Loui, Susie Wall, Jenni Ryan and Ed Reggi demonstrate their capable grasp of comedy, particularly Wall and Reggi. They’re aided by an ingenious projection design by Mark Wilson that presents a panoramic overhead depiction of their various surroundings while also labeling sundry scenes. Wilson also contributes the meticulous lighting that enhances the playful set designed by Jason Coale.
Props master Jim Ryan has fun with such script-appropriate elements as Cool Whip and some omnipresent egg-beaters, while Tori Meyer provides the lighthearted sound design. Costumes by Tina McCartney are a particular highlight, from the modest dresses adorning the ladies in Victorian style to the slick style of lady-killer Nick in the show’s final scenes.
Wall, Loui and Jenni Ryan nicely convey the differences in their characters, with the former eager to over-analyze every adventure and the latter content to boil down experiences to their basics while attempting to ingratiate herself into her surroundings. Loui has the most complex role, as the only married member of the troupe and its most conservative voice, and she handles Mary’s surprising evolution in the “modern era” of 1955 with fancy and aplomb.
Reggi’s rubber face and amiable disposition are utilized adroitly by director Maggie Ryan to extract the comic potential in the eight minor roles he portrays, from a cannibal with an upset stomach derived from an unfortunate Alsatian pilot who became his dinner to a rapping, jive-talking bridge troll to a good-natured “teen-ager” who answers the ladies’ curious questions at a gas station, circa 1955. Quicker timing in various scenes would make the portrayals even funnier.
“On the Verge” was given an impressive presentation earlier this year by the Performing Arts Department at Washington University. This handsome professional rendition, following closely on the heels of that collegiate show, reinforces how refreshing and urbane Overmyer’s script continues to be.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.