Backwards into the future
Time-travel and wordplay accentuate latest Blue Room comedy
Three late-Victorian Era ladies machete-thrash their way through a jungle that is both imaginary and imaginative, the whole time verbally slinging puns and double entendres and stringing together alliterations like so many faux pearls. Mary, Fanny and youthful Alexandra have met on the high road to adventure and subsequently decide to travel together. Where their journey takes them is not only the extremes of landscape, weather and native populace, but also that of culture. Particularly, that of Western culture. And even the barrier of time yields before their humorous but dogged determination for discovery.
Welcome to the Blue Room Theatre’s latest production, Eric Overmyer’s heady comedy On the Verge. Mary, Fanny and Alexandra have joined forces because they realize they are, essentially, heading in the same direction. Driven by curiosity and the thrill of new vistas, each has her own reason for journeying—Alex likes taking photographs of things no one has seen before, Mary likes to collect specimens to impress her colleagues back at the “Boston Geographic,” and Fanny delights in mastering languages she’s never heard before. Also, there’s a sense that she needs to escape her stifling marriage to stuffy “Grover.”
Each of the ladies also demonstrates a Commander McBragg-like tendency to recount past exploits, adorned with the fun exaggerations of pulp adventure tales. But as the trio plunges deeper into the unknown, encountering all manner of Swiftian personages and creatures, they begin to find themselves almost telepathically receiving mystifying words from the future, words like “air mail,” “long distance” and “Nixon.”
Of course, it is the youngest member who begins to pick up these signals first, the older ladies ignoring Alex’s prognostications merely as youthful lack of discipline. The audience, of course, realizes that Alex is seeing the future, or hearing it anyway. Eventually, however, even Fanny and Mary begin hearing the strange words. Intrigued, the threesome determines to discover the future. And what they discover is us.
Director Margot Melcon has assembled a good crew. As the principles, Mary, Fanny and Alexandra, actors Sheri Bagley, Alice Wiley Pickett and Shanna Walsh all turn in delightful work. Each seems to understand her character well, and their body language and vocal delivery suggest as much as their words unveil about these women. Wiley Pickett, perhaps, shines just a smidgen more than the other two here: Her command of her voice and movement are excellent.
As a multitude of creatures and characters encountered on the women’s journey—everyone/thing from German-accented cannibal to Yeti to James Dean-like bridge troll and Sinatra-like nightclub owner—Rob Wilson does a pretty good job. He navigated the various accented voices and physical turns fairly admirably.
The authentic-looking period costumes were from Chico State’s Theatre Rentals, lights and sound were good, and the set was effectively minimalist. The play runs a bit over two hours but for the most part doesn’t feel that long. Which suggests how generally engaging the production is.