It's an odd choice of play for an outside setting: At the Pacific Design Center's Outdoor Amphitheatre, Eric Overmyer's language-soused "On the Verge" is competing against the muted traffic sounds of San Vicente. Theater-goers will strain, at the beginning, to hear the verbal rhythms of the characters--three late-l9th-Century female anthropologists who love travel almost as much as they love a good, thick sentence. These women never use "ordinary" or "discussion" when "quotidian" and "palaver" will do.
But the ear adjusts. And the visuals pay off--the west side of the Design Center, on which scene titles are projected throughout the play--provides a whimsical and modernistic landscape for a play in which women who believe they are traveling through space come to understand they are traveling through time.
Their brains pick up strange radio waves from the future, and eventually they tune into the catch-phrases and jingles of the ultimate terra incognita--1950s Las Vegas. Words such as "Burma Shave," "Cool Whip" and "Vel-vee-ta" excite them, as do "brass knuckles" and "melt down."
Karen Foster is the practical Mary, Linda Pennington the affected Fanny (she adores the National Review because it reminds her of the 19th Century), and Nicole Farmer is the openhearted, word-addled Alexandra, who finds her true calling as a rock and roll lyricist. Mark Doerr plays all of the beings the women encounter, from a 19th-Century husband to a Yeti (an abominable snowman) with a cowlick.
Randee Trabitz directs the members of the new Oasis Theatre Company to deliver every line with punch, a smart way to approach an astringent play with little heart and less plot. The play is clever, but the dramatic payoff is minimal.
* "On the Verge," Pacific Design Center, Outdoor Amphitheatre, 8687 Melrose Ave., Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Ends Nov. 4. $10. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.