New Rep’s final main stage show of the season (running through May 25th) is Eric Overmyer’s ON THE VERGE, the l985 play that put him on the map. (They have two more in partnership with the Boston Center for American Performance @ B.U.’s Studio 210.)
I’m afraid I think ON THE VERGE is dated, dense—and awfully long, at that. Overmyer’s references may have been topical at the time but now they’re passé. Audiences under 65 have no clue about Burma Shave signage or what Norman Mailer’s first novel was. To misquote the peripatetic explorers, it’s “extremely hard to hack your way through this thicket” of repetitive verbiage.
New Rep’s press material describes the play as if it has a feminist slant: Three Victorian women “escape the conventions of their society…by embarking on a safari through time that leads them to the possibilities of liberation, empowerment and beyond.” I don’t think so. One of the women (Christine Hamel) ends up sacrificing all she’s learned for a motorcyclist and a surf board. Another (Adrianne Krstansky) gives up her scientific travels for a gambler (“1955 suits me, she gushes”). The third (Paula Langton) carries on, to explore her newfound “voluptuousness.” Betty Friedan is flipping in her grave.
It’s the third who channels landmarks of the future like “off shore drilling, venture capitalism and no fault insurance.” No mention of the women’s vote, civil rights, feminism or the anti-war movement. Only the gambler has heard of Satchel Paige. Since most of the female characters don’t change much, except to be acted upon, it’s the male (Benjamin Evett) in the cast who has the juicy roles of the cannibal (You are what you eat), the Yeti, Mr. Coffee and more. We can’t wait for Evett to reappear.
Overmyer starts out on the right track, telling us that “civilizing the world is women’s mission,” but he loses his way by settling for 1955. I’ve been there. It wasn’t so great for anyone who wasn’t white or male. But, as one of the characters says in disagreement, maybe it’s “only me.”