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'On the Verge'

The three "Lady Explorers" at the heart of the Majestic Reader's Theater production of "On the Verge:" Jodi M. Altendorf (Mary), Kathie O'Brien (Fanny), and Arlee Olson (Alex). The show gets three performances this weekend at the Majestic. 

Director John Elliott says Eric Overmyer's "On the Verge: or, The Geography of Yearning" is a good fit for the Majestic Reader's Theater for at least a couple of reasons.

First, he said, part of the goal of the Reader's Theatre is to stage, even in scaled-down productions, shows that mid-valley audiences may not get a chance to see anywhere else. "On the Verge" hasn't been staged in the mid-valley since a 1998 Albany Civic Theater production. (Elliott ran the lights for that production.)

Second, Elliott said, the relatively intimate scale of the productions offers a chance to really focus on the playwright's words, and this production takes that to extremes: The actors in this weekend's production will read the stage directions aloud.

"On the Verge" is the September offering for the Reader's Theater, and will be presented three times this weekend at the Majestic. (See the information box for details.)

In "On the Verge," three Victorian-era female adventurers take a journey into what they believe to be "Terra Incognito," a new, unexplored land. But it becomes clear that the three are traveling forward through time and are beginning to absorb knowledge from the future — a process they call "osmosing."

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Don't be misled by that description, though: "On the Verge" isn't science fiction, Elliott said. Rather, he said, think of it as a fantasy that explores the nature of language.

"It makes the audience rethink common phrases that we already know," he said — things like "air mail," for example. Or "Cool Whip." 

But for all the play's focus on language, Elliott said, it's the relationship between the three women that gives the show its heart. "A lot of the things they're going through are quite intimate," he said, and so chemistry between the three is essential: "That has to exist, or it's just going to fall apart." He said his three leads, Jodi M. Altendorf, Kathie O'Brien and Arlee Olson, have been up to the challenge.

At the same time, though, the play also features moments of broad comedy. 

Elliott cast the show with that chemistry in mind, but also needed to find actresses who could tackle their characters in a hurry, thanks to the quick pace of Reader's Theatre productions: "You don't have the time to spend three months exploring the characters. You just have to jump in and go." 

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