The Theater Department will be taking audience members on a journey through space and time during their last mainstage production of the season, “On The Verge.”
Directed by Assistant Professor Connie Rotunda, the Eric Overmeyer play features three female Victorian explorers moving forward, in every sense of the word, from 1888 until 1955, with the goal of reaching Terra Incognita: the last unknown, unexplored bit of globe.
“This is a play about women discovering who they are and celebrating their potential. It is a play about yearning,” Rotunda said. “The title says it all ‘On the Verge,’ or ‘The Geography of Yearning,’ is such a sensorial phrase about our internal landscape. It is my job, our job, to illuminate that.”
A unique component of the show is that all eight characters the three Victorian explorers meet throughout their journey — including a German dirigible pilot, a baby yeti, a bridge troll and a slick Havana-style nightclub owner — are played by one actor.
Fourth-year theater performance major Robert Gagnon, cast as Man, said his role requires him to bounce from one character to the next often during quick scene and costume changes, which challenges him to fully shed his previous persona and take on the next within a matter of minutes.
“Each of the roles I play are iconic characters that are very specific and could be easily recognizable by the audience, which puts the pressure on me to get each of these characters’ nuances down pat,” Gagnon said. “While embodying their distinctness, I also am trying to put in my own interpretation to make each character truthful and real for me as an actor to relate to.”
Gagnon said getting into character for this production and transitioning from one to the other in the time allotted is unlike any show he’s had to get into character for.
Whereas he typically has one character to focus his attention on, this production requires him to take on sometimes three new roles within a four-page script span.
Gagnon said he has taken to studying each iconic character’s movements, vocal patterns and lives in order to create the most authentic interpretation of them, and he said the quick character transitions have become less challenging throughout the rehearsal process.
Besides the variety of characters Gagnon’s role requires him to portray, the interpretation of the show’s transition itself has proven to be a challenge for Rotunda to visually convey onstage.
Whereas the majority of productions are set in a concrete, exact location, Rotunda said “On The Verge” challenges the production team to create an open, non-literal expanse of texture that is undefined in terms of an exact location.
Rotunda said this seemingly abstract notion is being conveyed through each character’s movement, commitment and stillness within their space.
Out of the various unique components of the show, third-year theater performance major Jenny Berger, who plays Fanny, a Victorian explorer from 1889, is the production’s language.
Berger said the language, with its challenging nature, is what truly takes its characters and audience members on a journey.
Rotunda said the production, which is dedicated to the Theater Department’s late Emerita Faculty Dr. Beverly Brumm, is about the beauty of yearning.
Rotunda said she would like audience members to leave the theater with an expanding sense of their own possibility.
“It all fits in rather beautifully with the sense of time and space evoked by the script, including an internal knowing of what is still unknown externally, until the moment when internal and external meet,” Rotunda said. “And this circles back around to other reasons why the play was chosen. It speaks to the feminine journey of longing and self-discovery throughout history. It is a play about language — the language of movement, the language of time, the language of space, the language of change, the language of the heart and the language we speak.”
“On The Verge” will run in Parker Theatre from Thursday, April 24 through Sunday, May 4.