On the Verge

By Eric Overmyer
Directed by Dennis Lee Delaney
New-York Historical Society
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

This show was a case of the total being less than the sum of its parts. It was a lovely production -- with an impressive display of lighting, costume, and prop artistry as well as acting -- but the long, talky script came alive for only a fraction of each act. Hence, this inaugural effort of the New-Stage Theater Company was largely uninvolving.

The New-Stage Theater Company is the new dramatic arm of the financially struggling New-York Historical Society, which says it hopes to draw new visitors by producing ``plays with social, political and historical relevance to New York.'' First produced a decade ago, On the Verge concerns three women whose 1888 vacation takes them on a trip into the future. At first they presume unfamiliar objects like an eggbeater, a dirigible, a motorcycle, and cream cheese are products of the indigenous culture, and they are further perplexed when they involuntarily blurt out comments about Burma Shave, Mrs.Butterworth, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Red Chinese. It's not until they find a 1972 newspaper clipping about President Nixon that they realize what is happening.

Playwright Eric Overmyer intellectualizes a subject that is usually played for laughs. Even the play's subtitle, The Geography of Yearning, indicates that time travel is more than a mere comic device here. The vocabulary is sophisticated, and characters analyze their predicament in cerebral monologues. However distinguished, this highbrow approach tended to drag down the pace and disengage the audience. The story took too long to get going and too long to wrap up, especially since the play exceeded its publicized 2-hour-10-minute running time by nearly 40 minutes.

With more exciting material, the New-Stage Theater Company promises to be a worthy venture. The four actors, who all hold day jobs at the society, were excellent. Ione Saroyan, Nicole Wells, and Wendy Martling looked grand in their Victorian attire (designed by Deborah Edelman), and each imbued her character with a distinctive personality. The women's ``real life'' camaraderie translated nicely to stage. All three of them came out of the graduate acting program at Rutgers University, as did scene-stealer Michael Klein. In a role reminiscent of Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets, Klein portrayed eight characters in On the Verge -- among them a 1950s teenager, a 19th-century society husband, a nightclub host, and a female Asian fortune-teller. His delicious performances were the most entertaining aspect of the show.

The actors were complemented by top-notch production elements, including stylish lighting (designed by Christopher Gorzelnik) and an exquisite array of props.

(Sets, Bennet Averyt; Technical Director, Nick Rempel; Stage Manager, Jennifer Grutza.)

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 1
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1996 Adrienne Onofri

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