One of the great pleasures of the rediscovery of “herstory” promoted by the Second Wave of the women’s movement was the unearthing of lost stories of daring female explorers of the 19th century: Harriet Chalmers Adams, Gertrude Bell, Isabella Bird, Nelly Bly, Aimée Crocker, Alexandra David-Néel, Edith Durham, Isabelle Eberhardt, Mary Kingsley, “Annie Londonderry” Kopchovsky, Ida Pfeiffer, Annie Smith Peck, Hester Stanhope, Alexine Tinné. In 1987 a male playwright and TV scriptwriter, Eric Overmyer – who later won Writers’ Guild of America and Edgar Awards for his work on The Wire – took inspiration from these ahead-of-their-time characters to write On the Verge, in which three Victorian Era women travel to Terra Incognita. The play will be performed over the next two weekends by the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY-New Paltz’s McKenna Theatre.
But this is not just a tale of feminist high adventure, for Mary, Alex and Fanny quickly find that they are traveling through time as well as space, eventually ending up in a Caribbean nightclub in 1955 and wrestling with evolving idioms, technology and pop culture along the way. The only other characters in the play – eight of them, including a cannibal impersonating a German dirigible pilot, a baby yeti, a poetry-spouting beatnik troll, a Vietnamese psychic and a personification of Death known as Mr. Coffee – are all supposed to be played by the same actor.
“On the Verge speaks to the feminine journey of longing and self-discovery through history. It is a play about language: the language of movement, time, space, change; the language of the heart and the language we speak,” says assistant professor Connie Rotunda, who is directing the show at SUNY-New Paltz. The production is dedicated to the memory of former Department of Theatre Arts chair Dr. Beverly Brumm, who died last December; the play was reportedly a favorite of hers.
Performances of On the Verge will begin at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, April 24 to 26 and May 1 to 3, with 2 p.m. Sunday matinées on April 27 and May 4. Reserved tickets for all performances cost $18 general admission, $16 for seniors, SUNY faculty, staff and non-New Paltz students and $10 for SUNY-New Paltz students. Tickets are available at www.newpaltz.edu/theatre or by calling the box office at (845) 257-3880 between 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
On the Verge, Thursday-Saturday, April 24-26, May 1-3, 8 p.m., Sunday, April 27 & May 4, 2 p.m., $18/$16/$10, McKenna Theatre, SUNY-New Paltz, 1 Hawk Drive, New Paltz; (845) 257-3880, www.newpaltz.edu/theatre.