SAN DIEGO — Eric Overmyer has chosen an appropriate name for his pseudo-Victorian time-travel fantasy, "On The Verge, or The Geography of Yearning." This germinating theater piece is a good idea on the verge of becoming a play.
Don't be fooled by the full-out production that opened Saturday at the Cassius Carter Center Stage. The work, directed by Old Globe Executive Producer Craig Noel, is still in its yearning stages, bogged down with a boring excess of word-play cleverness.
Consequently, the opening night audience was on the verge of falling asleep, or leaving, or simply giving up trying to make sense of the thing halfway through the first act.
Overmyer's good idea was using three Victorian lady adventurers as his excuse for trekking off from 1888 into "Terra Incognita," a mysterious realm where the three discover, not nearly soon enough, that they are traveling through time, not space.
His oversight was failing to substantiate the cleverness of it all with some genuine purpose.
When the women finally reach 1955, after what seems like hours of tramping around in a circle on Kent Dorsey's dapple-lighted rotating stage, there's nothing left for them to do but chatter on about Cool Whip (which must have been another "transmission," as they call it, from an even more bizarre future). They break up their journeying threesome so that Fanny (Lynn Wood) and Alexandra (Rebecca Stanley) can stay forever by their jukebox paradise, while Mary (Jo de Winter) sets out for more peculiar discoveries in the ever-expanding future.
Have they changed? Have they educated or enlightened us? Illustrated some hidden truth through numerous spotlighted soliloquies and Overmyer's penchant for meaningless alliterations? No.
Even more disappointing, the playwright has not treated well the real Victorian adventurers who inspired his play. There's a subtle put-down that carries through the first act, a belittling of the true courage of these women who dared defy every domestic rule society had imposed upon them by striding off to African jungles or Tibetan mountains.
Granted, they might be viewed as a peculiar lot. In the midst of primitive surroundings, they may have served high tea on carefully packed china or eschewed trousers for long, heavy skirts and petticoats, but these women had real spirit, intelligence and bravery, with enough consideration for the rest of us to write endless journals and publish their diaries.
Overmyer mocks this desire to leave behind a trail of adjectives. His characters are shallow comic figures, given to spouting long passages of overabundant prose and capable of being taken in by the most ridiculous male characters and apparitions Overmyer was able to conjure (all played by Mitchell Edmonds).
"On the Verge" does have witty moments (a backyard barbecue, in the anthropological spirit of the trek, becomes an "authentic suburban charred meat festival"). But nothing materializes from Overmyer's imagery. References to eggbeaters and Jacuzzis, "Ike" buttons and casinos do not make a play when strung together as "fan mail from the future."
Noel, with help from the design team, has attempted to fill the gaps of meaning with a richly manifested production. The potential for technical disaster is high, so cluttered is this staging with glitzy gadgets and projected subtitles on the floor. They are an admission that something is lacking, but they failed to make anything clearer.
In fact, those baffling titles were upside down for half the 360-degree house--perhaps because of a projection failure.
Dianne Holly's costumes add a welcome touch of authenticity, Dorsey's lighting a nice atmospheric cloak for the painted map with which he decorated the stage floor. Its rotating capability was nice, but futile.
Edmonds was unable to expose much worth mentioning in the multiple roles required of The Man, a character whom Overmyer seems to have detested into being, not mocked, as he did the women.
More helpful is the vivacity, charm and hopefulness that Wood, Stanley and de Winter, all new faces at the Globe, have brought to Overmyer's unfinished play.
Perhaps he'll take note of their natural input, and the 2 1/2-hour running time, and eliminate the self-indulgent demonstrations of dictionary literacy.
"On the Verge, or The Geography of Yearning" needs quite a bit of evolution before it ventures any farther into the future.
"ON THE VERGE, OR THE GEOGRAPHY OF YEARNING" By Eric Overmyer. Directed by Craig Noel. Scenic and lighting designer Kent Dorsey. Costume designer Dianne Holly. Sound designer Debby VanPoucke. Composer Larry Delinger. Stage manager Raul Moncada. With Jo de Winter, Lynn Wood, Rebecca Stanley, Mitchell Edmonds. Tuesday through Sunday with matinees, through March 9, at the Old Globe Theatre's Cassius Carter Centre Stage, Balboa Park, San Diego.