Hedgerow VERGEs Into Uncharted Territory

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

“The civilizing mission of Woman is to reduce the amount of masculinity in the world…”

Rose Valley’s resident theatre company continues their current season with a comedic exploration of femininity directed by Kittson O’Neill. Eric Overmyer’s ON THE VERGE (or The Geography of Yearning) is wonderfully loopy and tons of fun. Written in 1985, this tale about time travel will be onstage at Hedgerow through February 8.

Originally produced by Center Stage in Baltimore, the play revels in linguistic gymnastics as we follow three intrepid Victorian female explorers on their trek through “Terra Incognita.” Alexandra, Fanny and Mary, the heroines of ON THE VERGE, are fictional characters based on actual women—Victorian women known collectively as “lady travelers” who escaped their own closed society by exploring exotic locales unheard of by most Westerners, male or female. But don’t worry, it’s not all high-brow intellectualism—there are tons of pop-culture references as the ladies make their way from 1888 to 1955. Mary reaches the conclusion at the end of the first act that the three of them are in fact traveling forward through time and that, while doing so, they are beginning to absorb knowledge from the future. All three blurt out words and phrases familiar to us, but complete mysteries to them. Their looks of astonishment mixed with confusion are hilarious.

The intrepid trio are perfectly played by Penelope Reed (Mary), Jennifer Summerfield (Fanny) and Maryruth Stine (Alexandra). Reed is well-known to local theatregoers; she is Hedgerow’s Executive Director and has been the driving force for the company since 1991. She brings extensive national experience to the stage in her portrayal of Mary, the eldest of the group. Reed’s ability to take the playwright’s richly dense language and play with the words is impressive. In addition to the comedy, Mary has many of the play’s more insightful speeches, and Reed delivers them beautifully, making each word come alive with wonder and mystery.

Frequent Guest Artist Jennifer Summerfield shines as Fanny, the most conservative of the group. While deftly portraying a proper Victorian lady, Summerfield also manages to deliver the laughs. She matches Reed with her ability to make the language come alive. As the youngest of the trio, Maryruth Stine’s turn as Alexandra is an exuberant hoot. Stine revels in her character’s comedic moments, yet never veers into caricature. Like her counterparts, it is a nuanced performance. And the physicality of these talented ladies is amazing. With nothing more than their bodies they convince us they are traversing rocky terrain or climbing a steep cliff…

Brock D. Vickers in Hedgerow Theatre’s ON THE VERGE. (Photo credit: Ashley LaBonde of Wide Eyed Studios)

Rounding out the ensemble is Hedgerow Fellow Brock D. Vickers, who portrays eight different characters that the ladies encounter during their trek. Ranging from a cannibal to a callow teenager, Vickers morphs seamlessly into each one. A major “Way to Go” to a young actor I have watched grow tremendously during the short time he’s been with Hedgerow. All four pull the viewer into the wacky world of ON THE VERGE as they play out the story with true abandon.

O’Neill’s staging of this offbeat piece is exceedingly joyful and inventive. She has paced the action perfectly, never leaving the audience behind on this wild adventure. In the theatre’s press materials, O’Neill states “It’s such a joyful play that embraces the theatrical in its writing and conception.” The collaboration of director and design team makes this abundantly clear. Playwright Overmyer specifically states in notes in the acting script that the designers “avoid the trap of realism. This is a play about the imagination, and about theatricality…” Aaron Cromie’s whimsical set design makes use of Tyvek in ways one would never have dreamed of. Jared Reed and Patrick Lamborn add sublime support with their lighting and sound designs, respectively. Juliet Grey Kelsey and Susan Wefel gathered the many and varied props, and Constance Case has dressed the ladies in spot-on Victorian attire. Her costumes for Vickers are brilliantly amusing.

While ON THE VERGE has serious undertones, with messages about feminism and to always strive for something more in life, the story is told in a truly funny manner that will delight theatregoers of all ages and genders. It’s the perfect tonic to lift you out of the winter blahs. In light of recent efforts to overturn gains women have made in healthcare, etc., Overmyer’s play takes on new relevance. And I’ve always felt laughter is the best way to get a point across…

ON THE VERGE (or The Geography of Yearning)
by Eric Overmyer
Directed by Kittson O’Neill
January 8—February 8, 2015
Hedgerow Theatre
146 W. Rose Valley Road
Rose Valley, PA 19086

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