On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning
is a 1986 stage play by Eric Overmyer, best known for his work on Law & Order
, The Wire
, and Treme
. It tells the story of three Victorian women explorers
, each with their own specialty, who set off in 1888 to chart Terra Incognita, an unknown and mysterious land. Mary Baltimore is the oldest, an anthropologist whose travels are mostly in Africa. Fanny Cranberry is writing up her journey for the tabloid "True Trek"; she is the most conservative and the only married member of the party. Alexandra Cafuffle is the youngest, an aspiring lyricist whose specialty is cold terrain, especially Tibet.
They meet natives including a German-accented cannibal, a yeti, a Beat poetry-spouting Troll (all played by the same actor); and encounter new objects and vocabulary as they travel through time and space, discovering the ability to "osmose" the meaning of these new terms. Eventually they reach civilization again, having arrived back in America in 1955.On the Verge
is a celebration of feminism, language, history, and pop culture
. Not to be confused with Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
On the Verge contains examples of:
- Adventurers Club: Fanny is a member of Explorer's Club, although the real one wasn't founded until 1904, and probably didn't allow women in its early days. (The play already has Time Travel, so why not, really?)
- Ambiguously Gay: there's more than a few hints that Mary is a lesbian.
- Antiquated Linguistics: sometimes bordering on Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness. Your program for the show may contain a glossary.
- Arc Words: Vaya Con Dios!, On the Verge
- Badass Biker: the Troll
- Beatnik: the Gorge Troll, with a few dashes of '50s greaser and Marlon Brando
- The Bechdel Test: passes quite handily
- Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: there's a snowball-throwing baby yeti in one scene
- Biker Babe: Alex in the final scene, on her way to a date with the Troll
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: most of the scenes end in a journal entry, where one of the ladies addresses the audience and summarize or foreshadow events.
- Catch Phrase: Mary: "Not annoying." Alex: "I'll follow suit."
- Coolest Club Ever: Nicky's Peligrosa Paradise Bar & Grill
- Cool Helmet: The ladies wear pith helmets, as any proper explorer should.
- Dragon Lady: Madame Nhu.
- Dramatic Ring Removal: Fanny after Mr. Coffee informs her that her husband Grover had her legally declared dead, and he committed suicide some 19 years after that.
- Family Versus Career: Fanny's long absences put a strain on her relationship with her husband Grover. There seems to be a great deal of tenderness between them, but they have very little in common.
- The Fifties: Where the ladies end up. "Perhaps 1955 is the apotheosis of the future."
- Foreign Queasine: Fanny delights in it in a monologue about the Adventurers Club, Mary declares manioc tastes "at best like the bottom of a budgie's cage", and Alex describes Tibetan cuisine as "not haute." A scene titled "Native Chop" introduces the cannibal Alphonse.
- The Hecate Sisters: Alex (maiden), Fanny (mother), Mary (crone)
- I'm a Humanitarian: Alphonse.
- The Ingenue: Alex, although she has more depth than the Stock Character and a bit of a rock and roll personality— making her more properly a Spirited Young Lady.
- Inscrutable Oriental: Mme Nhu, and her fortune cookies.
- Jive Turkey: Gus and the Troll; Alex embraces slang.
- Lady of Adventure
- Least Rhymable Word: dirigible, dirigible, dirigible!
- Loads and Loads of Roles: one actor plays eight roles (Alphonse, Grover, the Yeti, the Gorge Troll, Mr. Coffee, Madame Nhu, Gus, and Nicky Paradise)
- Lounge Lizard: Nicky Paradise, who is a genuinely charming love interest, not a sleaze.
- Man in White: Mr. Coffee
- No Pronunciation Guide: "Hec-kwhod-ont?"
- Plucky Girl: Alex: "high adventure and stupefying risk are my metier."
- Proper Lady: "The civilizing mission of Woman is to reduce the amount of masculinity in the world, not add to it by wearing trousers."
- Psychopomp: Mr. Coffee, who is "not exclusively of this era" and informs Fanny of Grover's death.
- Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Subverted into "Proper ladies don't wear trousers," while lampshading the Double Standard of the straight trope.
- Reference Overdosed
- Rhymes on a Dime: The Troll, occasionally Alex.
- Rock & Roll: Alex discovers this is her calling.
- Romancing the Widow: Nicky to Fanny. (They Do.)
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Mr. Coffee
- Shout-Out: There's a ton of historical allusions (including a Running Gag on who's the current President), and pop culture references to Burma Shave, Gunsmoke, Willy and the Hand Jive and everything in between.
- Speaking Like Totally Teen: Occasionally when Fanny or Mary osmose a hip reference and don't understand it.
- Spirited Young Lady: Alex most prominently, although all the women have elements of this.
- Stylish Protection Gear: as proper Victorian ladies, they explore the jungle in dresses, petticoats, and corsets. Alex would rather wear trousers; the others will have none of that nonsense.
- There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Mary: "There are two sorts of folks in the world. The sort you eat with, and the sort you drink with. Cannibals you drink with."
[Later that scene] Fanny:
Yes, Mary, there are two sorts of people in the world. There are cannibals— and there are lunch. Mary:
Fanny, you are a Social Darwinist." (ie, "Eat or be eaten
- Time Travel: Chronokinesis.
- Time Travel Tense Trouble
- Title Drop: Several times throughout the play, usually with relation to Mary. "On The Verge" is the title of the first scene; "The Geography of Yearning" is the title of the last scene.
- Title In: Every scene has a projected title, usually containing a pun (Native Chop) or a pop culture reference (In The Jungle, the Mighty Jungle).
- Verbal Tic: Alex, using unusual random words as exclamations. For example, "Ow! Ligament, juicy Nordic, quiz!"
- You Are Who You Eat: Alphonse, the cannibal who gains the language and syntax of anyone he eats as "side effect." In this case, it was a dirigible pilot from Alsace-Lorraine.