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A CurtainUp Review

Orville and Wilbur Wright rank alongside Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison and other tinkerers and dreamers whose vision and perseverance profoundly changed the lives of people throughout the world. Arthur Giron's new play won't give you a great deal of technical insight into just how their flying machine actually worked. Instead it's a family memoir of the Wright Brothers who it seems didn't like each other very much, their spunky and long-suffering mother and their demanding itinerant preacher father. They weren't exactly an idyllic apple-pie and chicken every Sunday small town family, but despite the difficult dynamic between the brothers, between each boy and his father, and between mom and dad, Giron's portrait is of a family that holds its center and rises above the herd because of the unconditional love and support of the mother.

Unfortunately, as actors are often not very interesting off stage, the Wright Brothers' private lives are not terribly different from countless others of that more innocent period in American history, at least not as depicted here. The playwright's stated mission of helping us to understand just what causes inventive genius in a family is never fulfilled. To be sure, Susan Wright as written by Mr. Giron and portrayed with considerable spirit by Suzanna Hay, comes across as a smart and powerful influence in her sons' lives, but her character adds little new to the pantheon of supportive parental figures.

Michael Louis Wells and Thomas Mc Hugh as Wilbur and Orville do their best to give life to their famous characters, but they never really let us see that special spark that allowed them to break free of the mold of the every day. Having to portray the brothers as little boys, teenagers and grown men asks too much of them as performers. It's also a big stretch for the audience. On the same note, we are given a single character, Otto Lillienthal, (played by Brad Bellamy), as a sort of every man representation of the many scientists and visionaries with whom the Wrights consulted during their quest towards liftoff.

The one character who really changes and grows in the course of the play is the father as played by Daniel Ahearn. When we first meet him he is a blustery, brimstone and fire preacher-absentee father and husband. By the time the play ends, he's tasted and accepted failure and learned to express love as well as anger. He is no longer the narrow-minded conservative to whom Wilbur's desire to fly brings to mind the story of Icarus who flew too close to the sun and fell to his death.

Jamie Richards, who directed Stonewall Jackson's House (Our Review ) last season does her best to create some movement on this claustrophobic stage. The addition of music (by musical director Peter Eldridge) and Kert Lundell's brave attempt at creating a flight atmosphere are just that --brave attempts that never (the word play is too tempting!) take flight.

I admire The Ensemble Studio Theatre and have enjoyed many of their productions, especially their one act marathons (our review), but this play didn't work for me in its desperate effort not to be a documentary.

By Arthur Giron
Directed by Jamie Richards
With Daniel Ahearn, Brad Bellamy, Thomas McHugh and Michael Louis Wells
Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St. (212) 247- 4982.
Performances 11/11/97-11/30/97 Opens 11/17/97 
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer, 11/18/97

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