Future Imperfect

In Eric Overmyer's jaunty two-act brainteaser On the Verge, the leisurely pace of the nineteenth century collides with the speed-addicted tempo of twentieth-century life. Three Victorian lady travelers set out in 1888 to explore an uncharted region known as Terra Incognita. Faster than you can say paradigm shift, the feisty trio finds itself lurching headfirst into the modern world. They stumble upon "artifacts" from the future, including "I Like Ike" buttons and hand-held metal egg beaters; they utter strange phrases such as "Mrs. Butterworth," "mustard gas," "Red China," and "Cool Whip"; and they encounter unlikely characters, from a lounge singer called Mr. Coffee to a gas station attendant named Gus. And as they hurtle forward through history they contemplate the nature of space, time, language, experience, and culture, all couched in a script rife with alliteration, allusion, and metaphor.

Simultaneously heady and playful, dense and glib, affable and indecipherable, On the Verge was first presented in 1985 at Center Stage in Baltimore A where Overmyer was associate artist from 1984 through 1991 A and the show has since been produced more than 30 times worldwide. (Renaissance man Overmyer juggles two other careers along with being a playwright: He's written for the television shows St. Elsewhere, The Cosby Mysteries, and the super-schlocky Sisters, and he adapts classics such as Ibsen's Peer Gynt and Beaumarchais's The Marriage of Figaro for the contemporary stage.) In Verge, as in several of his other plays, including Native Speech and Dark Rapture, Overmyer combines a fluid imagination, protean writing, arcane references, and pop-cultural obsessions while nodding to influences such as James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Tom Stoppard, and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The resulting blend of social commentary and brainy slapstick has the power to dazzle or to fall flat, depending on how accessible the actors render the seemingly impenetrable language and how inventively the director presents the far-from-logical plot. Such high-concept writing begs for a high-concept production to carry it A in other words, a production with theatrical flair and a distinct point of view. In its current interpretation at Florida Playwrights' Theatre in Hollywood, On the Verge receives an almost no-concept production.

What could be a frisky philosophical journey peppered with dramatic surprises becomes a tedious recitation in the hands of director Angela Thomas and her hard-working but often clueless cast. Thomas's staging proves numbingly repetitive. As the female adventurers, Alison Eudeikis (Mary), Miriam Kulick (Fanny), and Lori Dolan (Alexandra) approach their nineteenth-century roles with a tad too much bushy-tailed enthusiasm; not one of the actors modulates that tone when she crosses the time line into small-town Fifties America. In contrast, as the lone male of the lot, Rory Parker brings low-key yet welcome irony to his depictions of eight fringe characters.

The production does come together nicely during certain moments, particularly when Mary, Fanny, and Alexandra close ranks in the frightening jungle, protecting themselves with open parosols that double as shields, as well as when the threesome simulates a treacherous walk across a mountain bridge during a storm; it also coheres at the close of act one when the intrepid trekkers realize that they are traveling through a geography of time as well as of space. If Thomas had probed Overmyer's cryptic text more deeply in order to penetrate its layers of allusion, meaning, and sly wit, the entire production might have resonated with the authenticity that infused these few isolated scenes.

Stage Whispers
The address is the same but the name and some of the players have changed. Since 1992 Mario Ernesto Sanchez has been running the theater company Teatro Avante and the annual International Hispanic Theatre Festival (IHTF) from El Carrusel Theatre in Coral Gables. To help cover his expenses and to assist other companies seeking temporary shelter, Sanchez has rented the facilities at various times during the past four years to the Florida Shakespeare Theatre, Actors' Playhouse, and Akropolis Acting Company. When faced with a staggering rent increase recently, however, the producing artistic director knew he had to look to another source in order to keep his operations afloat.

"I went to a festival in Costa Rica," Sanchez reports, "and when I came back on April 2 I found a letter on my desk saying that they had raised the rent 300 percent as of April 1 [from $1000 a month to $3000]. The owners of the Astor Art Cinema, who were looking for an additional space to put another screen up, came over and they assumed the lease. We're now sharing the space with them."

Along with a name change from El Carrusel to the Alcazar Cinematheque, the theater, according to Sanchez, sports remodeled bathrooms, a new cafe, and new drapery in the auditorium, all courtesy of Cesar Soto and Julio Pe*a, codirectors of film programming at the Cinematheque. "In truth I have lost the flexibility to share the stage with other theaters because the Cinematheque schedule is very structured," Sanchez explains. (Two different films play each night, seven nights a week, except during prearranged times when Teatro Avante presents live theater.) "But here's the positive thing: This is not a commercial movie house. It is an art cinema showing films from Europe and films you won't see in commercial theaters. That will bring in a special kind of audience that I think is more my audience than a commercial theater audience. And the Cinematheque people understand our needs, so we're working together very well. I'm helping them with their mailing. They're giving out postcards for the [Hispanic Theatre] Festival. I think that as long as we respect each other and trust each other we can gain from this."

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