Vermont Theater Company's 'On the Verge' to be at Hooker-Dunham

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Director Colin Grube's production of On the Verge offers a night of of intellectual adventure and thought-provoking whimsy. We meet Fanny, Mary and Alexandra, 3 intrepid and delightfully eccentric Victorian explorers, as they pack their steamer trunk with machetes, climbing ropes, maps, journals, ledgers and umbrellas. Donning pith helmets, they depart for Terra Incognita--a phrase appearing on early maps to indicate unknown lands.

Be prepared for a tsunami of words and allusions. This viewer wished for a pause button so he could stop the action to look up a word or research an historical reference. Eric Overmeyer's brilliant script recalls The Tempest as it conjures "a brave new world" in the mind's eye. In this play, however, we travel to several new worlds, each more surprising than the last. While the dialog is rich and flamboyant, sets and props are all elegantly simple. Plywood boxes become mountains and simple artifacts – egg beaters, Noxzema skin cream and Cool Whip – symbolize entire eras.

Sadie Fischesser plays the purposeful yet poetic Mary. Though dedicated to exploration she is curiously loyal to 19th century morality and female dress. "The civilizing mission of Woman is to reduce the amount of masculinity in the world. Not add to it by wearing trousers. The wearing of trousers – by women – leads inexorably to riding astride a horse. Instead of the modest sidesaddle."

Mary finally trades her long skirt for pants in 1955. Shannon Ward brilliantly delivers the complicated lines of Alexandra, the youngest and most adaptable of the trio. Besotted with with words, she paints striking verbal pictures: "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." When things get tough on the trail, however, her language becomes more direct: "Mary, it is soggy. It is saturated. I have fungi growing on my corset stays."

In her portrayal of Fanny, the elegant Pat Langille brings a touch of much-needed emotion to the plot. She is devoted to her distant husband Grover and weeps for him when she learns from that he jumped to his death from a grain silo in the Crash of 1929.

The protean Ryan Buck appears as no fewer than 8 different characters. Though occasionally costumed as an alligator or Yeti, he usually represents shallow, simple or arrogant men, thus providing the perfect foil for the lady travelers' devout feminism. His best role is that of smarmy lounge lizard Nicky Paradise, a happy inhabitant of 1950's California where everybody "likes Ike" (President Dwight Eisenhower) and lives for pleasure.

Like the time traveling actors in the play Grube directed last summer – "Hollywood Shakespeare," – Mary, Fanny and Shannon are seduced by the technologies and consumer culture of mid 20th century America. Even proper Victorian ladies find rock n' roll, Jacuzzis and Cool Whip hard to resist.

On the Verge; or, The Geography of Yearning continues at the Hooker-Dunham Theater Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 3 p.m. $15 adults and $12 students on Friday and Saturday, $12 for all on Thursday and Sunday. Reservations at 802-258-1344 or vtcreservations@gmail.com.

Rick Cowan is on the board of directors at Main Street Arts and writes theater reviews for the Brattleboro Reformer.


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