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Wednesday, March 13,2013

The mystery of history

MSU Summer Circle finds comic adventure in 'On the Verge'

by UTE VON DER HEYDEN

Friday, June 15 — If you’re a lover of words, rhymes, wordplay and linguistic acrobatics, you will relish “On the Verge, Or The Geography of Yearning.” You might call its script stunningly imaginative.

If that’s not your cup of tea, you might say the script is wildly esoteric — or just downright peculiar.

But who cares? The sun is shining and it’s the second week of fun and free outdoor theater offered by Michigan State University’s Summer Circle. Besides, in the able hands of director Melissa C. Thompson, an enthusiastic cast of three women and one man and an obviously dedicated production team, this script by Eric Overmyer becomes an entertaining, successful production.

Overmyer, who has written and produced TV shows like “St. Elsewhere,” “Law and Order” and “The Wire,” turns to comedy here. “On the Verge” takes us on a journey of discovery and adventure as we follow three Victorian women explorers into the new, secret land of Terra Incognita. Dressed in traditional Victorian garb over “good, stiff petticoats worth their weight in gold,” the three (Mary, Alexandra and Fanny) set off “into a wilderness of time and space.” They carry with them knapsacks, ropes, machetes, maps, food, postcards (postcards?), a touch of sherry and the inevitable umbrellas, which they use like weapons. “Ladies, shall we bushwhack?” shouts leader Mary as they charge into the jungle.

These “sister sojourners,” maybe the feminists of their day, are courageous and smart, but also ebulliently eccentric. This makes for great conversation (think volumes of fanciful words delivered at breakneck speed) as they regale each other and the audience with exploits of past explorations and dreams for the future. Along the way, they find increasingly unfamiliar, mysterious artifacts: household utensils such as an eggbeater (that prop provides some high theatrical moments), mechanical gadgets, an “I Like Ike” button, food items like CoolWhip (delicious) and a side-view car mirror that, of course, reads “objects in mirror may be closer than they appear. “ They are confounded, but never daunted.

Before long, it becomes apparent that they are traveling forward in time. They are thinking foreign thoughts and uttering strange words, a development Alexandra calls “osmosing.” The explorers also run into eight intriguing characters that create eye-opening new worlds for them. In the end, they land inexplicably, but happily, in the year 1955 at Nicky’s Peligrosa Paradise Bar and Grill.

“The future is now, and you must embrace it with all your heart,” Mary declares. Our intrepid heroines are prepared to do just that. For exactly how that all turns out, you have to see the play yourself.

Three of the actors in “On the Verge” are back after last week’s opening Summer Circle show, “Adrift in Macao.” They are Carolyne Rex as Alexandra (Laureena in “Macao”), Zachera Wollenberg as Fanny (Corinna in “Macao”) and Tim Smela as Man, who plays all of the eight characters the women meet; he was Mitch in “Macao.” New this time, but fitting right in, is Kate Buselle. Apart from the characters they play, each of the four actors has his or her own style and stage presence, but they appear totally comfortable with and supportive of each other. Without that, this play wouldn’t work as well as it does.

With this year’s graduation, the MSU Department of Theatre lost a group of uniquely gifted seniors and graduate students. But judging from the performances in the first two shows of Summer Circle, there’s a new group of talented young actors waiting in the wings eager and ready to take their place.

‘On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning’
Michigan State University Summer Circle Theatre
Continues at 8 p.m. Friday, June 15 and Saturday, June 16
Performed at the outdoor theater on the banks of the Red Cedar River
Free

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