Through Saturday in the Performing Arts Theatre on campus, the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance offers Eric Overmyer’s ingenious and entertaining play On the Verge, directed by UCSB graduate student Clareann Despain and starring Megan Caniglia, Dylan Hale, Madeline Minor and Hasmik Saakian.

The full title of the play is On the Verge; or, The Geography of Yearning, and it is the story of an expedition.

Three American women from the 19th century set off with machetes and parasols to map “Terra Incognita (Land Unknown).” The ladies — Alexandra Cafuffle, Fanny Cranberry and Mary Baltimore — are the fictional counterparts of numerous Victorian ladies who plunged into uncharted wilderness areas, baffling the natives and infuriating their banker-minister-lawyer husbands who had to run their own households while their spouses were off in wildest Africa, or wherever.

There is also, I think, a shadow of the expedition taken by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, after the Civil War, into wildest Kansas, promoting votes for women.

Alexandra, Fanny and Mary have all gone exploring before, though this is their first time in concert. As they proceed, encountering one bizarre individual after another (all played by the same actor), it becomes apparent, to Mary first of all, that they are traveling through time as well as space. Their dialogue “makes extensive use of esoteric language and pop culture references from the late 19tj century to 1955” (as one reviewer put it). All three ladies keep detailed notes in their neat, Morocco-bound journals. They are, it would seem, determined to explore the future, and especially woman’s role in it.

Accomplished playwright that he is, Overmyer’s name may be less well-known to theater-goers than to viewers of such high-end television dramatic series as St. Elsewhere and Law & Order, which he has, variously, created or co-created, written or co-written, and produced or co-produced — sometimes all at once. He is, thus, a major player in the invention of a new kind of television — what a writer in the New York Review of Books has justly called “a new art form.”

If the plot of On the Verge seems a little on the eccentric side, bear in mind that Overmyer graduated as a theater major from Reed College in 1973.

On the Verge plays at 8 p.m. this Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets are $13 for students, seniors, and UCSB faculty and staff, and $17 for general admission. Tickets are available at the door or from 805.893.7221. (Remember that there is no late seating at the Performing Arts Theatre.)

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at