`On the Verge' comically tracks intrepid travelers

On the Verge Comedy by Eric Overmyer. Directed by Garland Wright. ``On the Verge'' heralds itself pictorially on the cover of the Playbill for the John Houseman Theatre. An intrepid, Victorian-looking woman is zooming into the foreground on a skateboard. Playwright Eric Overmyer subtitles his comedy ``The Geography of Yearning,'' set in Terra Incognita beginning in 1888. But its natural habitat is the terra cognita of verbal extravagance.

``On the Verge'' concerns a female expedition from back then (1888) and out there to the approximately here and now of USA 1955. The expeditionists are Mary, Fanny, and Alexandra (Lisa Banes, Patricia Hodges, and Laura Hicks). Determined to survive only on what they can carry, the women climb mountains, hack their way through jungles, wade along swollen streams, meanwhile conversing spiritedly.

En route, they encounter assorted natives, denizens, and even an apparition, all amusingly sketched by Tom Robbins. Approaching mid-century America in their time-space sojourn, they are intrigued by artifacts like Burma Shave, Cool Whip, and a button announcing ``I Like Ike.'' About the deterioration of language, they are less sanguine. As one of them says, ``I have met the future and it is slang.'' ``On the Verge'' is the kind of tongue-in-cheek social satire that could inspire a treatise on detritus.

Mr. Overmyer's version of life `a la National Geographic could benefit from abbreviation. But why quibble? Under Garland Wright's direction, the three women and Mr. Robbins skateboard skimmingly over the wordplay. The Acting Company production is helped greatly by John Arnone's abstract d'ecor and James F. Ingalls's lighting. Besides providing sensible Victorian traveling costumes and trendy '50s couture for the adventurers, Ann Hould-Ward has created suitable garb for such characters as a Gorge Troll, a Yeti, a Dragon Lady fortune teller, and a lounge pianist named Nicky Paradise. John McKinney composed the incidental music.

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