By Barbara B. Covell
For the TODAY
Justin Atkins knows how to deliver. The accomplished Newport actor takes the reins as director for the Porthole Players production of “On the Verge, or The Geography of Yearning” by playwright Eric Overmyer. This edgy, engaging ride involves time travel and geographic exploration of other worlds, known as Terra Incognito.
Overmyer’s script is loquacious, full of wit, hilarious dialogue and imagery, both beautiful and surreal. When it premiered in 1985, critics called it a “meditation on the outer and inner frontiers of the human condition, requiring a sense of whimsy and a strong ensemble cast.”
The storyline begins in 1888 with three Victorian women explorers who traverse what they believe is a new, unexplored world. Each of these women have varying degrees of exploring experience and exhibit a fierce independence. They are continually trying to outwit each other through wordplay as they each relate their unique history in exploration.
As they bushwhack through jungles and traverse an icy, bottomless gorge, they begin to encounter a series of mysterious strangers. They also find a number of unexplainable artifacts — an egg beater, dirigibles, political campaign buttons and newspaper clippings from the 1900s. It becomes apparent that they are not on a normal journey. Mary, the eldest member of this unlikely expedition, decides that they must be traveling through time, as well as space.
The ladies agree that they are beginning to osmose or absorb knowledge from the future. This leads to some funny scenes as they try to identify the purpose of the artifacts they encounter.
It is a one-way journey, one that holds a unique destiny for each of these intrepid explorers.
This is the directorial debut for Atkins, who has garnered much praise for his 14-year acting career in Newport.
“This is my first full length play,” he said. “I chose this because I was involved in the production of this show at my community college in Pendleton. It was witty and silly. The playwright has filled it with literary references, historical knowledge, and political satire.”
Barbara Berge portrays Mary, the eldest and most experienced explorer. She touts the Boston Geo as her source of wisdom and considers exploration her indisputable calling. Mary is unmarried and shuns intimate relationships, instead devoting her life to studying the mating behaviors of the many peoples she meets. Mary wants to experience the future. Berge is dead on in her portrayal as Mary and gives a riveting performance.
Fanny is the most morally upright and conservative of the travelers. She generally disapproves of all that she sees and hears in the future. Her character has the biggest arc, as she transcends her conservative viewpoints to embrace her sensuality, warming up to the future possibilities. Elizabeth Hoover does an outstanding job as the many-layered Fanny, emanating a raw sensuality with her character’s conventional beliefs.
Jami Ivory is Alex, the youngest of the group. Her personality is somewhat irritating to the other women, as she is forgetful, prone to daydreams and fond of wordplay. Upon hearing a new word, she plays with it by rhyming or exploring alternate meanings. Her experience as an explorer is limited and she curses the jungle for its hostile environment. Ivory, on the Newport stage for the first time, portrays Alex with wide-eyed abandon and her physical comedy is a joy to watch.
Not to be missed is William Webster’s hilarious and talented portrayal of eight characters, suitably titled Grover et al. While comedic routines are interspersed throughout the show, Webster’s timing and brilliant, unique performances will give the audience many laughs.
“These actors have worked phenomenally well with their lines and blocking” Atkins said. “I am so pleased and happy with them. This is a tight-knit cast who have worked extremely hard.”
Cyn Wilkes is stage manager, Vickie Steen is producer, light design and tech are by Jed Hansen, with sound design and tech by Zach Doyle.
“On the Verge” runs through August 26, with performances at 7 pm every Friday and Saturday and 2 pm matinées each Sunday. Tickets, $18 for adults or $16 for seniors and students, are available by calling 541-265-ARTS or online at www.coastarts.org.
By Barbara B. Covell