Over the edge

The Verge

By Susan Glaspell
Directed by Martha Elliot
The Looking Glass Theatre
422 West 57th St. (307-9467)
Equity showcase (closes Feb. 7)
Review by Steve Gold

Susan Glaspell, a founder of the influential Provincetown Players, was also an accomplished playwright, best known for Trifles, a bona fide classic of American theater. The Verge, which premiered in the fall of 1921, is Ms. Glaspell's excursion into experimental drama. It's an odd mixture of solid social comedy and heavy-handed symbolism, with a dose of Nietzchean philosophy thrown in for seasoning.

Claire Archer (Ellen Archer), a wealthy middle-aged woman, breeds plants in the hope of producing hybrids of such uniqueness as to transcend "ordinariness," to be "over the edge"; needless to say, she wishes the same thing for herself. Those around her are bewildered by her efforts, among them her husband Harry (Melvin Rodriguez) and sister Adelaide (Kendall March). Adelaide has raised Claire's daughter Elizabeth (Dellalyn Rothstein)-Claire cannot be bothered with such things. Also present are Harry's friends Dick (David Lee Garver) and Tom (Jay Stratton). Claire is in love with Tom; not surprisingly, his last name is Edgeworthy.

The plot of The Verge--the word "plot" is used loosely here--concerns whether Breath of Life and Edge Vine, two of Claire's creations, will flower. Claire's obsession causes Harry to fear for her mental stability. He calls in Charlie Emmons (Srdjan Pesic), a neuroligist, to check her out. The play ends in an overwrought manner is in keeping with Claire's personality.

The Verge is the sort of eccentric play that Claire would have written had she herself been a playwright. Alas, most of the supporting characters are underwritten; and Claire, the key character, spouts a fountain of pretentious dialogue whose overall meaning is known only to God and Ms.Glaspell--although in the case of the former, one cannot be certain. Nevertheless, the Looking Glass Theatre's production was impeccable, thanks mainly to a topnotch cast and Martha Elliot's fine staging.

As Claire, Ms. Archer never resorted to cheap sympathy in order to mitigate the abrasive aspects of her character. Mr. Rodriguez was forceful as the sympathetic yet baffled husband. Ms. Rothstein and Ms. March performed with effortless charm. Mr. Garver, as Dick, got the most out of a sketchily written role; as did Caroline Treadwell, who played Hattie, the Archers' maid. Mr. Pesic had an additional role as Claire's fussy assistant Anthony, and he was slyly witty. Mr. Stratton imbued the part of Tom with considerable tenderness. The main set, a spacious, brightly colored greenhouse, was well-rendered by James Wood, who also made clever use of a balcony to convey the interior of a tower. Ellen Perry's period costumes were most attractive. Sound and lighting, by Kenneth Nowell and Courtney Munch, respectively, provided the proper ambience; and Ben Moore, listed in the program as "Combat Choreographer," won his battle with plenty to spare. The Looking Glass Theatre has given us what is most likely the definitive production of this problematic play.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Steve Gold