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The Arts
09.30.09

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Phaedra

Lost in Time

Fine acting, exuberant language saving graces in uneven 'On the Verge'

By David Templeton


The best thing about Eric Overmyer's absurdist play On the Verge is the torrent of tongue-twisty language articulated by the trio of Victorian "lady explorers" at the center of the playwright's time-traveling comedy. And the best thing about the just-opened production at Petaluma's Cinnabar Theater is the obvious relish with which the cast lets Overmyer's text fall, bounce, rocket and ricochet from their tongues. "The bane of my many travels in the tropics is a bland, mucilaginous paste called manioc," pronounces Mary (Jessica Powell), "made from the forlorn and despicable cassava, a tuber of dubious provenance." Overmyer, clearly, is possessed of a steadfast affection for rhyme and alliteration. "Whenever I must palaver with pasha or poobah, I don this tonsorial getup," confesses Fanny (Laura Jorgenson). Remarks the trouser-loving Alexandra, "In Lhasa, on the bone-white hill of the Potala, before the lunar congregation of Buddhist alchemists, I saw the Dalai Lama himself transmute great buckets of gold coins. Into yak butter." Even the snowball-chucking yeti played by Tim Kniffin, attacking an octet of rotating roles, is given, by Overmyer, a hilariously "language-y" howl to hurl. Rich in verbal pyrotechnics, the play is unfortunately anemic in the area of plot or story, presenting a series of random oddities as the three women set out in 1888 and find themselves moving forward, Twilight Zone–like, toward 1955. The direction by Beth Craven (whose sense of pace was so perfect early this year in The Scene, still one of my favorite productions of 2009) slips up here, allowing the pace to plod along, as if through mud. Other choices, as in a series of perplexingly dim and unclear rear projections stating chapter headings of each new scene, only knock the production further into the mire. While the giddy and well-honed performances, and all that smoldering wordsmithery, are more than reason enough to see On the Verge, one is unlike to arrive at the expedition's climax without wishing there'd been a little more there there.

'On the Verge' runs Thursday–Sunday through Oct. 11 at the Cinnabar Theater. Thursday–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm. 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. $20–$28. 707.763.8920.


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