By Rebecca Ralstin, guest reviewer
The Forge Repertory Theatre debuts its first season taking on Eric Overmyer’s “On the Verge or the Geography of Yearing” at The Black Box Theatre near the West Bottoms. This brand-new company promises a mission to create “a professional community of artists creating and revitalizing work through collaborative storytelling” while “fostering a welcoming environment that is accessible to all” who attend.
Forge strives to eliminate hurdles for patrons crossing the threshold at its productions, including the cost of tickets. Their modern website, accessible and easy to navigate – beckons to millennials and boomers. Founding members: Coleman Crenshaw, Elaine Clifford, Ryan Fortney, Todd Lanker, Bailey Rose, and Valerie Schlosser plan to meet with audiences and to build relationships in the theatre community of Kansas City.
In a nation that is battling rising cost of living expenses, Forge chooses to do something revolutionary in this Midwest Market – publish the books Forge’s foundation lies in the belief of being “Open Source” in which production budgets are published online so anyone can see exactly how donations and ticket purchases affect the bottom-line of each production.
This act alone is truly revolutionary and remarkable. It proves that this company isn’t afraid to think outside of the box, to try new things, change tactics and evolve in a world that has already damn near eliminated print. Being “open source” truly gives the audience the receipts as to how important and invaluable their contribution is to the arts by suiting up and showing up, and choosing to support local artists and ensuring that their voices are heard even for one night. The audience is arguably the most important character – without one, how can a company continue to grow? How can theatre continue to grow?
Ryan Fortney has taken on an ambitious undertaking in bringing “On the Verge” to life as their debut production. An interesting and meandering play that hasn’t gotten much play since its debut. Fortney only tells the audience the year the story begins. The actors then create the magic of transporting everyone to an unfamiliar place with no director’s note or dramaturgical explanation other than the year in 1888. There, the audience meets three dynamic women as they set out on an exploration of an uncharted land: Terra Incognita.
The audience follows the lady explorers as they encounter different people, places and things through a journey across space and time. These Victorian ladies, resilient, strong-willed, quick-witted and dedicated to their cause, explore undiscovered land.
Mary, played by veteran and Kansas City favorite, Nancy Marcy, takes the unofficial lead of their exploration and professes exploration as her mission in life. Marcy brings a playful and energetic nature to Mary where she could easily come across as stiff or, god-forbid, bossy. The audience will be drawn to her vigor and commitment to the world she carves out in front of her and her costars. Marcy is and established artist for Forge Repertory’s inaugural season.
The audience welcomes Sonia Gwin on her professional debut in KC as the pragmatic and observant Fanny. Her no-nonsense attitude and thoughtful remarks bring some rationality to the story. There’s a groundedness to Fanny’s conservatism that sometimes acts as a foil to the other characters but make no mistake, she does not play second fiddle to anyone.
Annie Schwaner brings the precocious and earnest Alex to life on stage. Her character, loves language yet often misuses words in a moment of comedic aphasia. Schwaner does a brilliant job of showcasing the thought process of a character and making choices that are relatable and interesting. Watch for her in upcoming shows.
The explorers encounter several different people and creature on their journey. All of them played by Jace Willcutt. He has the unique and challenging task of creating eight distinct and defined characters throughout this journey. More often than not Willcutt’s physicality and vocal ability create moments of comedic relief throughout this trek and have the audience looking forward to his return to the stage. This gimmick gives contrast to the descriptive and sometimes cryptic language of the lady explorer’s earnest convictions.
It’s clear that all involved on stage are having a blast, completely investing in the moments; although the audience may feel on the outside looking in. This is not so much a flaw in the production as in the writing of the play itself.
Overmyer weaves a lot of background in the first several scenes planting little “Easter eggs” of language for the audience to pick up on, hinting at the direction our explorers might be heading.
The end of Act 1 will either leave the audience curious to hurry back and find out what happens next, or leave them completely lost in a world of words with no direction.
“On the Verge” presents a unique storyline with a diverse and engaging cast that is as skilled as it is committed. Fortney trusts his actors to create the space for the story and to live within everchanging walls.
Lighting and sound remain simple, yet very effective in creating different scenes and monologues. The actors keep the timing and pace of the story constantly evolving.
This show challenges viewers. Some will love it while others may not. This is not a fault of the actors so much as in the writing of the play. The actors take on several challenging verbose sections that are a feat in language for any performer. These actors are able to make clear choices to communicate intentions although the story line and plot remain muddy at best.
“On the Verge” represents Forge Repertory Theatre’s first production with three more to follow in 2020.
“On the Verge” continues through Dec. 15, at The Black Box Theatre. Tickets and/or reservations are available through Forge Repertory Theatre website. at www.forgerep.org or by telephone at 816.226.7154.
Tags: “On the Verge or The Geography of Yearning” review, Forge Repertory Theatre, The Black Box Theatre, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment