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Dramaturgical On the Verge Notes by Gretchen Grassl



In the late 1800s, a small group of women began to protest the dominant legal, social, and cultural view that they were inferior to men. Beginning in America with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, these women pressed for changes in property law that would allow them the same rights as men—the right to own property, vote, and have equal protection in the workplace.


Mary, Fanny, and Alexandra of On the Verge, are fictional characters based on actual women – those Victorian women known collectively as “lady travelers” who escaped their own closed society by exploring places far beyond the bounds familiar to most Westerners, male or female. Though most expeditions into the uncharted regions of the American West, Africa, Asia and the islands of the Pacific were made by men, these women played an important role in opening up the world to Western society. At the same time, their travels effectively furthered the emerging cause of women’s rights by demonstrated the error of relegating women to an inferior role.


The unique use of language in the play propels the women along the journey. The transition of language from a Victorian vernacular to a mid-American slang assists in defining the points along the way. The playwright uses the language of the play and numerous allusions to create strong visual, aural, and verbal imagery.

The process of exploration is a dominant theme of On the Verge—the exploration of space, time, object, words, and ideas. It is an exploratory process for the characters as well as the audience. The characters explore and discover not only geography, but also unfamiliar objects appearing in their possession and strange phrases and ideas in their vocabulary and minds.

We hope that you enjoy following these women on their journey as they learn from their experiences and encounters with different terrains and unique people.

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