What do you get when you mix three proper Victorian ladies with a cannibal and an “I Like Ike” button?
It’s “On the Verge,” the first production in Theater Artists Olympia’s 2016 season.
Written by Eric Overmyer, the 1985 play follows the adventures of the women, who encounter strange people, creatures and objects, and come to realize they are traveling through time.
“I love this show,” said director Pug Bujeaud, TAO’s artistic director. “I’ve loved this show for years and years and years. I love the language. I love the whimsy.
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“In my director’s notes, I compare it to parfait,” she said. “It seems like a light and fluffy confection, but there’s a lot of layers to it.”
It seems that she is just one of the play’s legions of fans.
“Everybody I know who knows this play loves this play,” she said. That includes Olympia playwright Bryan Willis, who was apprenticing under Overmyer when the play was written.
Critics were charmed — if occasionally overwhelmed by Overmyer’s wealth of whimsical wordplay.
“Blending Tom Stoppard’s limber linguistics with the historic overview of a Thornton Wilder, Mr. Overmyer takes his audience on a mirthful safari that leads from darkest Africa to Terra Incognita,” Mel Gussow wrote in a 1986 New York Times review of a production in Hartford, Conn.
Bujeaud, who was part of a readers’ theater production of the show in the late ‘90s at Harlequin Productions, has long wanted to direct it.
“It’s a surprisingly feminist play in its strange little quirkiness,” she said.
It has three strong female roles (performed by Heather R. Christopher, Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe and Dana Galagan) in the intrepid adventurers.
The cast has one man — comedian and actor Morgan Picton — who plays all of the entities the explorers encounter, from the cannibal to a baby Yeti to the romantic lead.
Given all that, what took Bujeaud so long?
“I put it aside, because I couldn’t figure out how to do it,” she said. “They’re over hill, over dale, going through swamps, going through the dreamscape.”
But she has found a way to think outside the box — the black box space at The Midnight Sun, the group’s home.
“Of course, I decided to do it now that TAO is tied to a small theater space,” the director said.
Her solution? Projections that transform the space in a flash.
“We have three projectors running,” she said.
Best-known for directing dark shows — this isn’t the first one that included cannibalism — Bujeaud is having as much fun as she expected with “On the Verge,” which has been called Monty Pythonesque.
“It’s just so delightful,” she said. “We meet a gorge troll. We meet Mr. Coffee, who’s actually also Death.
“So much for my reputation of only doing grim things.”
On the Verge
What: Theater Artists Olympia kicks off its 2016 season with Eric Overmyer’s comedy about three Victorian-era female explorers traveling in unknown realms.
When: 8 p.m. Friday (Feb. 12) and Saturday plus Feb. 18-21 and 25-27, and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 28.
Where: The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 Columbia St. NW, Olympia.
Tickets: $15, $12 for students and seniors. For Thursday’s performance, pay what you can.
Also coming this season
“The Credeaux Canvas”: March 25-April 9. By Keith Bunin, the tragicomedy revolves around three young people who hatch a plot to forge a painting by (fictional) French artist Jean-Paul Credeaux.
“Seven Ways to Get There”: May 6-22. Olympia playwright Bryan Willis co-wrote this play with Dwayne Clark. About seven men in group therapy, it debuted last year at Seattle’s ACT Theatre.
“The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged)”: June 10-26. By the Reduced Shakespeare Co. Yes, the folks behind “The Compleat Wrks of Wilm Shkspr (Abridged)” have taken on the Bible.
An Improbable Peck of Plays 5: Aug. 12-28. The evening of short plays gets a new twist this year. All scripts must prominently feature the number five. Submissions will be accepted through May 8.