Verve of Verge: A Puzzle Play

By Ellen Redbird

Performed April, 2010 at the Goleta Public Library

This was a not-for-profit production. 100% of the proceeds went to benefit the Pacific Pride Foundation

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About Verve of Verge


Written and directed by California poet Ellen Redbird, Verve of Verge: A Puzzle Play is a poetry-driven comedy for the stage. Six friends, in various states of desire and denial, meet up for their usual banter-filled jigsaw puzzle night and discover something strange about the pieces. Meanwhile, the host anxiously awaits a visitor and potential lover (if only the host can break past gender bias to recognize love). What compass can we read when desire stands at the brink of possibility? or, rejected, falls back into shadow? How do we locate ourselves when meaning shifts and vistas of uncertainty open at our feet? Can there be liberation from the construction of binary gender? Performed before a backdrop of giant puzzles assembled as meta-narrative for each scene, the poetry explores questions and life’s energetic abundance at the edges of things.

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Unbox 1

Prologue: Audience Participation
Arctic Ant guides the audience in writing messages to be read aloud by Virga.

Metapuzzle 1: Disassemble Negative Space
Compass’s soliloquy, with chanter & chorus.

Metapuzzle 2: Matched Text / Mismatched Images
Puzzle night at the apartment of Compass & Corymb.
Ravel is already present. Halcyon arrives.

Metapuzzle 3: Matched Images / Mismatched Text
Arctic Ant & Umlaut arrive.

Metapuzzle 4: Virga
Virga arrives only in a memory space created by Compass.


10-minute Intermission
Free snacks on the patio (donations welcome).


Unbox 2

Metapuzzle 1: Five Static Mismatched
Halcyon, Umlaut, & Ravel need to take a break from the puzzle.
The critic in Halcyon’s mind uses the voices of Umlaut, Arctic Ant, & Ravel to torment Halcyon.

Metapuzzle 2: Five Dynamic Interact
To argue. To flirt.

Metapuzzle 3: Amoeboid
Finale. Poetry in pieces.


* Unbox = Act, Metapuzzle = Scene

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Characters are sometimes at odds with themselves, as they are in part with the definitions of their names.

To varying degrees, the characters act as instruments of poetry, pieces to a puzzle, parts of a psyche. They are a bit allegorical.



played by Tawnie Fransen

Host of the puzzle party. Nervously anticipates a possible visit from Virga that at the same time feels impossible. Shares apartment with Corymb. Is close friend to Ravel. Sincere, sensitive. A dreamer, full of desire, but afraid to let go of the familiar and break into new psychological territory. Lost, confused about identity, but not fully aware of it. Compass is in suspension, with the unanswered question, “What do I want?” Romantically expressive and full of desire, but in denial about being in love with Virga.

compass vt. 1. to go round; make a circuit of 2. to surround completely; form a circle around 3. to grasp mentally; understand; comprehend 4. to reach successfully; achieve; accomplish —n. 1. an instrument consisting of two pointed legs connected at one end by a pivot, used for drawing arcs or circles or for taking measurements 2. a boundary line; circumference 3. an enclosed area 4. full extent or range; reach; scope; specif., range of tones, as of a voice 5. any of various instruments for showing direction, esp. one consisting of a magnetic needle swinging freely on a pivot and pointing to the magnetic north

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played by Nidia Guerrero

Deeply emotional, yet grounded, self-realized, kind, and frank. In contrast, appears partly as an idealized vision and unreachable love object in Compass’s memory, veiling Virga’s earthliness in an aura of nobility and ephemerality. In love with Compass. Will Virga ever arrive at the apartment?

Symbolically, Virga might be the key to the play. The unanswered question. Possibility. Potential. The wrongfully idealized, being kept at a distance. The puzzle’s complexity and its clarity. Adaptable, slippery, ephemeral, and yet true. Virga is concerned with breaking past a static fantasy to acknowledge a fluid, complex reality. Is it Virga who actively chooses to evaporate, to be unanswered for the sake of healthy questioning? Is it Virga’s nature to do so? Or do Compass and others evaporate Virga, keeping Virga’s earthly reality at bay? Can questioning be a grounded practice? Can identity, love, and thought be received as flowing from multiple desires and thriving in uncertainty?

Outside the main narrative: announces scenes, reads notes from the audience, and assembles and disassembles puzzles as a backdrop and visual meta-narrative for each scene.

virga n. Meteorol. long streamers or wispy streaks of water or ice particles falling from the base of a cloud but evaporating completely before reaching the ground

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played by: Ashley Toles

Supportive confidant and advisor, but is likely to challenge friends to question themselves. Self-doubting, self-renewing. A theorist who builds and dissects at the same time. Loyal to friends, yet does not risk bonding too deeply. Generally optimistic. Playful sense of humor. Sometimes likes to flirt with Corymb. Is close friend to Halcyon and Compass.

ravel vt. 1. orig., to make complicated or tangled; involve 2. to separate the parts, esp. threads, of; untwist; unweave; unravel 3. to make clear; disentangle —vi. 1. to become separated into its parts, esp. threads; become unwoven; fray (out) 2. [Archaic] to become complicated or tangled —n. 1. a raveled part in a fabric; raveling 2. a tangled mass or complication

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played by Celeste Ondreya

Flirtatious tease, free spirited, a little devious. Curious about what others are doing but socially flighty. Likes to branch out for new adventures, but always returns to center. An artist happily absorbed in creation. Pretends to paint an abstract piece during the play. Especially likes to flirt with Ravel and annoy Arctic Ant. Shares apartment with Compass.

corymb n. 1. an indeterminate inflorescence whose outer flowers have longer stalks than the inner flowers, so that together they form a round cluster that is rather flat on top. the outer flowers open before the inner ones

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played by Marissa Gomez

Romantic poet stuck halfway in the past, in search of meaning. Somewhat melancholic and chronically suffers from unrequited love. However, is kept afloat by a core of hopefulness and creativity. Romantically desires Umlaut who has rejected Halcyon in the past. Halcyon struggles with shame, self-esteem issues. Is close friend to Ravel.

halcyon n. 1. a legendary bird, identified with the kingfisher, which was supposed to have a peaceful, calming influence on the sea at the time of winter solstice 2. Zool. any of a genus (Halcyon) of kingfishers of SE Asia and Australia —adj. 1. of the halcyon 2. tranquil, happy, idyllic, etc.: esp. in phr. halcyon days, usually with nostalgic reference to earlier times

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played by Megan Burwell

Pompous, self-proclaimed authority and intellectual, pleasantly at ease with self, jolly. Cordial toward others but in a self-absorbed way. An absurd fool-like character but lovable. Likes to take up space. Is in a romantic relationship with Umlaut.The word play in “Arctic Ant” is part of making fun of Arctic’s pompousness. Arctic Ant fancies self as a scholar, an armchair explorer. The one who gets to decree, while resting by a cozy fire, where the empire’s flag will be pounded into the continent’s ice. Arctic Ant is one who would smile while collecting taxes from the colonists. Would enjoy an entire planet for an easy chair. In a reality that Arctic Ant’s ego hopes never to face, Arctic Ant is as small as the insect and follows the rules of the colony rather than making them.

arctic adj. 1. of, characteristic of, or near the North Pole or the region around it 2. very cold; frigid
ant- same as ANTI-: used before a vowel
ant n. any of a family (Formicidae) of black, brown, or red insects, generally wingless, that live in colonies with a complex division of labor by groups
antarctic adj. of or near the South Pole or the region around it
Antarctica n. land area about the South Pole, completely covered by an ice shelf: sometimes called a continent

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played by Everett Lapman

Acts as sidekick/secretary, “interpreter/translator,” and lover for Arctic Ant. Enjoys supposed subservient role, but is not by nature meek or anxious to please. Umlaut sometimes secretly controls Arctic Ant even when it seems like Arctic Ant is in charge. Feels fully confident in self, but likes the privacy in hiding behind a quiet public persona. Enjoys humoring Arctic Ant most of the time and finds Arctic Ant amusing, though can get annoyed. Opinionated, talkative self comes out when alone with Arctic Ant. Startled only by a tendency to lose control of self, metaphorically budding extra body parts. Feels indifferently toward Halcyon, which inwardly drives Halcyon, who romantically desires Umlaut, a little mad.

umlaut: n. Linguis. 1. (a) a historical change in the sound of a vowel, caused by its assimilation to another vowel or semivowel originally occurring in the next syllable but later generally lost; mutation: in English, the differences of vowel in certain singulars and plurals (Ex: foot—feet, mouse—mice) or causative verbs and the words from which they are derived (Ex: gold—gild) are due to the effects of umlaut on the second word of each pair (b) a vowel resulting from such assimilation 2. the diacritical mark (¨) placed over a vowel, esp. in German, to indicate umlaut —vt. to modify, sound, or write with an umlaut

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Audience Participation

During the Prologue, as read by Arctic Ant, you will be given a chance to write a sentence or two on a piece of paper. Baskets of paper and pencils will be passed around for that purpose. Before each scene, Virga will read a few lines written by audience members so we can hear what unexpected juxtapositions can be created.

Audience members will also be given paper and pencil to write messages before the performance begins (instead of during the Prologue), adding those messages to the baskets being passed around. This will speed up the process and give more people a chance to participate

In listening, seeing, feeling, laughing, imagining, we collaborate with every art work to make a new experience. Will the poetry make recognizeable sense? Will it be disorienting? Either way, it is actively experienced in our minds and bodies. What arises in us in response does not have to fit into a puzzle we already know how to complete. In uneasiness, the discomfort of the strange, there is potential for discovery and growth—whether or not we can put it into clear terms. It can be proposed that a word does not just keep place but allows for displacement. For the figurative dynamics of language to carry us in more than one direction.

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Puzzle pieces that fit and don’t fit. Amoebic. A piece that fits anything. A piece that fits nothing. Unanswerable questions. To branch, to reach. The pieces of our lives, selves. Characters as puzzle pieces. Poems as puzzles without boundaries, without completion. Pieces that shift and change shape as meaning morphs in transit. Genre/gender, category, definition, label, word: edges. Desire on the edges. Fear on the edges. Thresholds: exits and entrances. Cliff. Coastline. Skin. Ecotone. Connection and disconnection. Love and rejection. What we deny/shame haunts our perimeters. What falls and rises from emptiness? Possibility/hope and uncertainty/fear—potential well-springs of life’s energy—at the brink: the verve of verge.

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Language play. Puns and punishment. A sense of liberation through confusion. Expectations dashed and confining walls crumble. Elasticity of the imagination. Laughter as relating, collaboration. As release. As rupture. The humor of bathos and pathos, scorn and empathy. The other side of serious. Humor multiplies meaning. Cracks apart absolutes. To make nonsense is to make new-sense (nuisance). The absurdity of life. Irony. Paradox. Such sweet sorrow. Surprise! The unexpected of the unknown revealed. Strange juxtaposition. The familiar made unfamiliar. Your context shifts, and to regain balance you must stand on new ground. What valleys open below your perch? How do you see now?

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Questions of Gender

There are no gender pronouns in the script. The characters do not identify as male or female or along a linear spectrum between those two poles (though the character of Compass is stuck in binary mode, however unnamed the two poles are). The idea of opposite genders and same genders is questioned. Gender can be expressed via a more fluid sense of personality, mood, and relationship.

As the writer and activist kari edwards said (paraphrasing), trying to defy gender [as constructed and policed by the culture and power system] is like trying to defy gravity. However, in literature, the language of gender can be explored, deconstructed, subverted, omitted, replaced, problematized, enriched, blurred, morphed, kept in motion, expanded, denounced, celebrated, and questioned. Paradox has a home in poetry.

Though they are related, there is a difference between self-identification and the way others perceive one’s gender. The audience of Verve of Verge is invited to open their minds and hearts to consider a kind of liberation from the impossible ideals of “real woman” and “real man.”

Books Ellen Redbird has been inspired by:

a day in the life of p. by kari edwards

Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein

My Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein

Space, Time, and Perversion by Elizabeth Grosz

Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue by Leslie Feinberg

Transgender Warriors: Making History From Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman by Leslie Feinberg

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The Letter V

Poem by Ellen Redbird, 2-27-10

Verve [< Verbum, Word] or Derivation Is a Sideways V

vim [akin to vis, force, strength]
valence, capacity to combine
valid, valor, value, vigor [< valere, to be strong]
viable, I can, vital, I need it,
feed us viand, victual, become
vivacious, vivid [< vita, life;
vivere, to live]

vegetate [< vegetus, lively < vegere to
quicken] vigilant [< vigil, awake] brink
verge [< virga, a twig, wand]
ice particles fall but evaporate (vanish)
viper, viviparous [< vivus,
alive + parere, to bear]
verdant/virescent [< verd/virere,
green/to be green] vine, vernal [< ver, spring]
issue forth, vagina [sheath]
of grass, V-formation, vanguard
[< abante, forward, from before]

venture [< venire, to come]
vehement [<vehere, to carry]
venatic [< venari, to hunt]
voracious [<vorare, to devour]
vomit [< vomere, to discharge] voluptuous
[< voluptas, pleasure] variety [< variare,
to change] vent [< ventus,
wind] vein, velocity, sex, vex
[< vexare, to shake, agitate] vibrant
[< vibrare, to vibrate]
venom [< venenum, a poison,
akin to venus, love]

vitellus [egg yolk <
vitulus, calf, yearling akin to vetus, old]
virile [< vir, a man] visceral [< viscus,
inner part of body] voltage, voluble, volute, revolve,
evolve [< volvere, to roll, to turn about]
in the shell

vocal, vociferate, vowel [< vox, voice]
verse, versatile, vortex [< vertere, to turn]
volition, volunteer [< volo, I wish;
velle, to will] volant, volatile [< volare, to fly]

vision, visitor [< videre, to see]
vagabond [< vagus, wandering] voyage
[< via, way]


The letter V can be associated with life, energy, creativity, and abundance.
Versus, the letter V can be associated with containment/concealment, destruction, and emptiness:

vacant, vacuous, vain, vanish, vanquish, vase, vapid, vast/devastate/waste, veil, vengeance, vesicle, vessel, vestment, veto, vicious, victim, victor, vile, vincible, vindictive, violence, virulence, vitiate, vituperate, void, vulnerable, vulture…. [< Latin: vacare, vacuus, vanus, vincere, vapor, vas, vastus, vastare, velum, vindicare, vesica, vestis, vetare, vitium, victima, vilis, vindicatus, violentus/vis, virus, vulnus, vellere]


A vehicle [< vehere, to carry] carries, which is both a movement and a containment; vim refers to life force and yet vengence might be derived from it; to be vain [< Latin: vanus, empty] is to be empty, and yet in lack there is wanting [< Old Norse: vanta, want], which motivates movement towards attainment.

Void vs. Vital
Veil vs. Venture
Vomit vs. Voracity
Vulnerable vs. Venus

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Frequently Questioned Answers

• A staged reading of Scene 4 of Verve of Verge was performed in Alexandria, VA, for the Yockadot Poetics Theatre Festival 2007. Directed by Enoch Chan.

• Ellen Redbird completed the first draft of Verve of Verge in 2003, seven years ago. Other sevens in the play: seven scenes, seven puzzles (most with seven pieces each), seven characters, seven o’clock. A seven looks a little like the letter V.

Characters are sometimes at odds with themselves, as they are in part with the definitions of their names.

• The play can be seen as a lingual opera. The banter or conversation partly acts as recitative. Characters perform poetic arias—near soliloquies—and duets, sometimes interwoven with other arias or duets to make a polyvocal fabric. There are also choral and chanting parts. Redbird likes the musicality of language and how sound carries and multiplies sense.

• Compass – space. Virga – time.

• There are no gender pronouns in the script.

• Giant jigsaw puzzles, designed and constructed by Ellen Redbird, are assembled on a backdrop for each scene, called a “metapuzzle,” of each act, called an “unbox.” The images depicted on the puzzles serve as a kind of visual meta-narrative. Virga puts together the puzzles with Corymb’s help.

• Though containing serious drama, Verve of Verge is also a comedy. Playful language is used to attempt double meaning, irony, absurdity, silliness, and wit.

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Collaborators, 2010

Ellen Redbird, Playwright & Director

Lauren Casapulla, Assistant Director

Megan Burwell……………….Arctic Ant
Tawnie Fransen………………Compass
Marissa Gomez………………Halcyon
Nidia Guerrero……………….Virga
Everett Lapman…………….. Umlaut
Celeste Ondreya……………..Corymb
Ashley Toles………………….Ravel

Original music score for Verve of Verge composed and recorded by Dan Weiss.

Sound operated by Lauren Casapulla.

Corymb’s painting by Celeste Ondreya.

Scenery, costumes, and graphics designed by Ellen Redbird.

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LaurenbiophotoLauren Casapulla is a north New Jersey native and subsequent Southern California transplant who relocated to Santa Barbara in 2000. Lauren works in Goleta as a contracts manager and commutes from her latest hometown, Ventura. She has found sun, fun, and friends in her home and work areas, both of which present community service opportunities. One great friend to the SB County community has long been the Pacific Pride Foundation (PPF). In hopes of putting a sizable fill in PPF’s budgetary dent, Lauren is very pleased to be part of the behind the scenes effort to throw this thought-provoking, puzzle and poetry party known as Verve of Verge.

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MeganbiophotoMegan Burwell is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, and came to Santa Barbara to pursue a degree from Westmont College. After being terribly bored in her English classes, Megan tried a public speaking class, fell in love with the power of speech, and quickly switched majors. She now holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and enjoys working as a Human Resources Coordinator at Network Hardware Resale here in Goleta. She is always looking for new experiences and creative outlets, with recent adventures including: travels to China and Japan, Reader’s Theater classes, a half marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and of course, Verve of Verge! Her many thanks go out to Ellen and the cast for making rehearsal such fun, as well as to her ever-encouraging husband and friends!

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tawniebiophotoTawnie Fransen is thrilled to return to acting after a short hiatus spent working, living, eating, sleeping, and working. She has performed improv with various comedy troupes including Orange County’s Improv Shmimprov and locally, Improvability and Caught in the Act. Her favorite roles to date include the Nurse from Romeo and Juliet, Professor Van Helsing in Dracula, and Arles Struvie in Greater Tuna. This production of Verve of Verge has given her the opportunity to present performative poetry, participate in playful puzzles, and practice pronunciation. She currently works in social services and lives in Ventura with her husband Jeremy and Easton the Wonder Dog.

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MarissabiophotoMarissa Gomez is a native Santa Barbarian and recent graduate of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where she received a B.A in Acting and Screenwriting. Her love of performing started at an early age when her Mom signed her up for ballet and tap classes at 3 years old then switched to singing when she was 9 years old with the Santa Barbara Children’s Chorus until she was 17. Some memorable productions she was involved in include Once Upon A Mattress by Mary Rogers, A Tribute to Rogers And Hammerstein by Cynthia Rogers Baggott and American Broadway Star by Cynthia Rogers Baggott. Marissa is very pleased to be in her first production now that she is back in Santa Barbara and especially that some dear friends back from high school are involved in it too! She dedicates this performance to her whole family for always supporting her love and dedication to being a performer and a ham.

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Head Shots for Theater CastNidia Guerrero is currently a senior at UCSB and is majoring in Dramatic Arts with a minor in Applied Psychology. She plans to pursue an acting career and is very passionate about acting. Nidia has had the opportunity to be in a few productions at UCSB such as various roles in the Vagina Monologues, been in directing scenes, and played April from Hotel Baltimore. She is very excited and grateful to be a part of this unique production of Verve of Verge. She has learned so much from her peers and director and hopes to continue to perfect her craft. She would like to thank her cast members, Ellen, Lauren, and everyone who has always been supportive.

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EverettbiophotoEverett Lapman is a 28-year-old Sound Engineer currently working on the radio at 92.9 KJEE. He received his Bachelors of Applied Science in Sound Engineering at Ex’pression Digital Arts College in Emeryville, CA. He has performed in numerous plays including, but not limited to, Our Town, Inherit the Wind, and Twelfth Night, as well as several one acts and a short film. He also appears in the DVD documentary release of Coachella Music Festival. He justmoved back into town and has decided to jump right back into acting as Umlaut in Verve of Verge.

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CelestebiophotoCeleste Ondreya is a classically trained dancer and multimedia artist. She revels in costume design/construction and is showcased in Hemalayaa’s fitness DVD, Bollywood Booty, which was featured on the Ellen De Generes Show. Her varied performances have taken her from California to New York City, and she can often be spotted locally, dancing with Hip Brazil. When not on stage, Celeste enjoys spending time with her beloved orange cat and running amok on trails and beaches, several dogs in tow. She is also a licensed massage therapist and maintains a dual private practice in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Miss Ondreya is currently busy writing and performing her own humorous memoirs. For more information on bodywork, visit www.somaceleste.com. To stay abreast of all other activities, visit www.celesteisbest.com. Celeste is thrilled to be appearing in Verve of Verge for her exciting acting debut!

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AshleybiophotoAshley Toles is a third-year English major at UCSB. Thus, she has been enjoying the poetic and eloquent language of this script and learning a lot about the power of words. She has always been involved in the arts and a few of her favorite roles include: Anita from West Side Story, Mrs. Meers from Thoroughly Modern Millie, Julia in Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Witch #3 in Macbeth. She is very excited to be in a production where she actually gets to work with the playwright directly! She desires to continue acting and writing throughout her entire life. She is excited to be in her first production in Santa Barbara and is really enjoying the humor, incredible talent, and wisdom that her fellow cast members have imparted on her. A big thanks to Ellen and Lauren for making this such a great experience!

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DanWeissbiophotoDan Weiss took up the guitar seriously at age 12, and began his songwriting career in 1993. When he’s not engaged in one of his plentiful hobbies, he continues to write, record, and perform his music/cacophony/haphazard tragedies throughout Southern California, with creative tendrils as far-reaching as Minnesota. He is a core member and co-writer for the band Doom Dong. His favorite labiodental consonant from the Roman alphabet is “f,” because it is voiceless. His favorite time to wake up in the morning is 1:11 PM.

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