Saturday, May 26, 2007

Eric Overmyer's ON THE VERGE

I recently got a call from Mr. Overmyer's office about a possible meeting with him. If you'll remember, I couldn't do it because I'm not in LA but out in Boulder, CO (where he was born) hustling words for an ad agency for the months of May and June. But it gave me an excuse to re-read one of his better known plays again, ON THE VERGE.

It's one of my wife's favorite plays.

In it, three Victorian women set off across the globe to explore terra incognita.

The Himalayas. The darkest hearts of Africa. Parts of the New World. Along the way, they argue about whether women should wear pants, stop for tea and cake, make journal entries about their expedition and complain about manioc, a pasty native foodstuff.

They also begin to find things behind bushes, in the dirt, elsewhere, that seem to belong not to their era, but some other, more mysterious era.

The first of these artifacts is an eggbeater.

As they move on, it comes to light that they aren't just moving through new spaces, but new times. Eventually, they end up in 1955 dancing with Eisenhower to big band numbers. This comfortable era is a place that two of the three women decide to stay, while the third, truly intrepid, moves on, deeper and further into the unknown.

It's a play that's a play in the best sense - it's playful. And it reminded me a lot of Clubbed Thumb's work. A play that requires strong women. A play that's funny, strange, provocative.

Some people in the "theatrosphere" (as dubbed by Parabasis) have occasionally maligned Overmyer (and others like him) because he seemed to leave theatre to make a living in TV. Of course, as a writer on ST. ELSWHERE, HOMICIDE, LAW AND ORDER and THE WIRE, he's much more than a writer. He's really gone on to shape a part of our culture, creating some realistic, gritty and true drama that set a high standard for what's good in the television procedural and redefined the cop show.

Maybe they should read ON THE VERGE, which still feels fresh today. It's clear his heart lays in the same place most us in theatre love - with actors making something amazing happen in small dark spaces using only language and movement.

What have you been exploring lately?


RLewis said...

I first met Eric when I was doing my NYU internship at Playwrights Horizons, and he was the literary manager. He was soooo in the mold of Andre Bishop, his boss at the time - quiet, laid-back, thoughtful, and able to make his points if pressed to the forefront. I spoke with him again at a PH benefit in Soho a couple of years later as he and I had a habit of hanging back in an unattended corner of the bar. Not a talker, but it only took a few words for his intellect to come through. He appeared to me to be just the kind of guy we'd need to keep in the theater, but one who would not be pushy or ego-driven enough to be seen/heard above our overcrowded playwrighting field. It's great to see how he found a place to do what he needs, but it's another loss for the theater. Clearly, we're not able to keep our best and brightest, but maybe that's how it should be.

Malachy Walsh said...

A nice recollection.

And I think it sounds like he's still making quite an impact on theatre... just not in an expected way.