Long, full skirts and pith helmets constitute the uniform for a trio of determined Victorian-era women setting out to explore the mysterious land of Terra Incognita in On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning. A sense of wonder and the quest for knowledge propel them in In Good Company's production at the New Orleans Arts Center, and it's an entertaining though curious venture.
Mary (Sherri Marina), Fanny (Cammie West) and Alexandra (Sarah Carlton) also carry machetes and umbrellas, and their quick banter seems more suited to a New England parlor than the jungles of a tropical locale somewhere between Australia and Peru. Fanny recounts menu items from the Explorers' Club dining room and Alexandra delights in repeating new words (derigible) and clever turns of phrase. Mary is the most grounded and seems to be the leader. Though dedicated to anthropology and the advancement of science, she's concerned that the women not wear trousers. Women's role is to civilize the world, she explains, and that means making it less masculine.
The play was written in the 1980s by Eric Overmyer, a producer of HBO's Treme, and it's full of clever wordplay. The serial banter and thrill of discovery make the work seem like a light comedy. Its wordiness may be meant to parody the language of the Victorian period or its stuffiness, but at times it seems to undercut the three women characters by making their enthusiasm and idealism seem absurd or eccentric. Marina grounds the work as the unflappable Mary, and keeps it from getting silly.
There is no set except for a backdrop that suggests an ancient map. But director Rebecca Frank evokes the wilderness by choreographing the women swinging their machetes in unison to slash through the jungle and having them wobble on a rope bridge conjured by one long strand of rope.
In Act 1, the women start to fumble upon words and signs of the future, and in Act 2, they are perched to rush forward into it. Along the way, they meet many men, all played by Evan Spigelman, including a cannibal who has taken the clothes and identity of a man he ate. Spigelman is entertaining as he gives many of the men distinct personas.
The future pulls the women toward different paths. But it doesn't feel like progress, in part because some of the play is dated. The work also uses many pop cultural references and musical sound bites to entertain, and they tend to paint the 20th century as being about consumerism more than anything else.
The ensemble makes the journey pleasant, and puzzling out the destination can be entertaining as well.