“How do you prepare for being on the sexual scrap heap? Do we all book into a sex hospice? Do all of us over-40s bring our sexy underwear and our face creams and throw them onto a big bonfire?” So wonders middle-aged Vera, a working-class Irish woman whose husband, Dessie, has left her for a missy half his age. But instead of holding a Viking funeral for their desirability, Vera and her friend Anna (the game Joan Slavin and Kelly Taylor) have checked into the Viking House Hotel in Donegal. The occasion of their off-license-soaked getaway is a concert by Daniel O’Donnell, the embodiment of Anna’s romantic longings. (Cultural note: O’Donnell is one of the most successful easy-listening entertainers in Britain, a kind of cardiganed Engelbert Humperdinck.)
Buoyed by Daniel’s dreamy aura and a couple of vodka lemonades, the women draft an all-too-willing hotel waiter, Fergal (Tom Souhrada), into their rebellion against sexual invisibility. The three wind up on a Donegal beach, struggling to make sense of their lives, to say nothing of the abrupt change in the play’s tone. For suddenly, courtesy of the local banshee, they’re being visited by visions of their husbands. Yes, it’s one of those evenings where People Representing Our Protagonists’ Unresolved Conflicts Magically Appear in a Series of Comic Encounters With Serious Undertones and a Couple of Musical Numbers.
As demonstrated in her Broadway entertainment Stones in His Pockets, Jones can capture her countrymen’s colloquialisms: Anna’s husband, Marty, refers to Daniel O’Donnell as “a buck eejit . . . a big girl’s armpit.” The playwright’s control of her own material, however, is exasperatingly less acute. Women on the Verge can’t decide if it wants to laugh off its questions or rage over their origins (patriarchy, the church, and women’s complicity in their own oppression). In the meantime, the story wanders away from every decent opportunity to make good on an earlier setup. Occasionally the play stumbles on one of its sharper edges: Marty’s breathtaking callousness toward Anna; Dessie’s frank assessment of his first marriage; Vera’s outrage over the death of her grandmother during the birth of her 11th child, supposedly the inevitable result of “nature.” But director Lynne Taylor-Corbett doesn’t really register these emotional spikes; she just keeps Irish eyes a-smiling and nuance-free.
The original production of Women on the Verge played to sold-out audiences across the U.K., a Waiting to Exhale for the menopausal Celt. For New Yorkers contemplating attending this production, I suggest instead a donation to Planned Parenthood, a stiff drink, and a sigh of relief that Ireland is a gorgeous place to visit but you don’t have to live there.