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A CurtainUp Review
Flight: The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh

There's one thing about fame. . . you can't take it to the bank, open an account, and expect to walk away and not look back. You gotta keep making deposits, baby; not withdrawals.
---Reporter, the first of numerous press people in Flight, all played by Brian D'Arcy James
Gregg Edelman as Charles Lindbergh
(Photo: Nick Andrews)
Charles Lindbergh was only twenty-five when he made his record-breaking, nonstop flight to Paris in 1927. His super hero image was badly tarnished by his ill-conceived friendships with Germans and speeches on behalf of the American First organization just before America entered World War II. There were those who attributed his ability to ignore the awful things the Germans he admired were doing was due to a mix of naivete and disillusionment with the celebrity hungry press after his child's kidnapping and murder which made him feel more comfortable in Germany than his own country.

Whatever one's feelings about Lindbergh, his life continues to intrigue biographers, novelists and dramatists. After catching a reference in Arthur Schlesinger's biography to a plan by some Republicans to run Lindbergh against Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, Philip Roth went into a creative what if mode and came up with his own nightmare vision of Lindbergh occupying the White House during what was in fact FDR's third term. The resulting allegory, The Plot Against America, is the best book I read this year. Lindbergh was the point of departure for the author's imagination but the novel is really about the Roth family and their neighbors, with a young Philip as the protagonist.

With that terrific book still fresh in my mind, I was eager to see playwright Garth Wingfield's Flight. Unfortunately, it never soars as brilliantly as the Roth novel though Wingfield too has ambitions that go beyond presenting yet another celebrity bio-drama.

Flight is much more biographical and Lindbergh is definitely the main character. However, the aim here seems to be to make the aviator a symbol for fame's often corrosive fallout. To do this the play's focus is on the fourteen critical years following the Spirit of St. Louis flight, with biographical facts rearranged and some events made up. This fourteen year trajectory offers plenty of opportunity to illustrate how frenzied media coverage boosts celebrity, the tragic possibilities inherent in always being in the limelight -- and the speed with which eager reporters can swing from veneration to vilification.

While Wingfield has hardly made Lindbergh a flawless hero, he casts a much harsher light on the press. The Melting Pot Theater's world premiere production does benefit from a top of the line cast and an effective abstract set that accommodates projections of actual events. Charles and Anne Lindbergh are ably and at times touchingly portrayed by Gregg Edelman and Kerry O'Malley, who last worked together in Into the Woods. They manage to be reasonably believable as people in their mid-sixties during the space flight scenes that bookend the flashback/forward structure. But the abstract staging and the often audience-addressing speeches and quick jumps from the Paris flight to its aftermath (including the kidnapping and Hermann Gðring's awarding him a German medal of honor) make both Lindberghs come across as rather remote figures. While Wingfield gives some credence to Lindbergh's anti-Semitism during a very brief interchange with astronaut Frank Borman, there's an overall sense of fence straddling, especially in the closing scene that depicts Lindbergh as a sensitive, tragic victim.

Brian D'Arcy James, who like Edelman and O'Malley is an experienced musical theater performer, gamely takes on the all-in-one character representing the sensation hungry press (including an unnamed but obvious Walter Winchell). Of the various reporters he plays, the most consistent is the one who first interviews a reluctant Lindbergh in Paris and likens fame to a bank account in which you have to "keep making deposits, baby; not withdrawals." His example of a famous man making too big a withdrawals is the movie actor Fatty Arbuckle when he raped and killed a young woman in a drunken rage. At the end, when Lindbergh approaches him for a chance to tell his story correctly, insisting that his words about Germany were just words and shouldn't have the power to destroy, the reporter lashes out with a twist on that initial exchange to explain that Lindbergh words were not only destructive and but destroyed him: "You have gone from being our country's most beloved hero to its most despised citizen in a matter of fourteen years! And by doing nothing that even comes close to a federal offense! Can you fathom how difficult that is? You have become Fatty Arbuckle!"

The above is one of the play's imagined and livelier interchanges. But Wingfield's script strikes too many tedious passages and false notes as in that final image of Lindbergh as a man diminished and lacking in energy. Viewers who've forgotten or are unfamiliar with the Lindbergh saga would do well to check out Wikipedia's online entry ( which includes details indicating that Lindbergh had plenty of energy -- enough to father three children with a German hat maker and have an anonymous relationship with them. Perhaps another aftermath of living in the celebrity limelight is that you learn to avoid the scandal-hungry press and make the most of their fickleness. Thus being a fallen idol probably made it possible for this anti-hero to navigate a Captain's Paradise in real life.

FLIGHT: The Rise and Fall of Charles
Written by Garth Wingfield
Directed by Nick Corley
Cast: Cast: Gregg Edelman, Kerry O’Malley, Brian D’Arcy James, Andrew Polk, Rex Young, and Victoria Mack
Set and Projection Design: Michael Deegan & Sarah Conly
Video Projections: Brian Kim
Costume Design: Daryl A. Stone
Lighting Design: Jeff Nellis
Sound Design: Jill R. Du Boff
Incidental Music: Lance Horne
Running time: intermission.
Melting Pot Theatre Company at Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St. (between Hudson and Bleecker St.)
From 5/08/05 to 6/19/05; opens 5/16/05 .
Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM & 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM.
Tickets are $55.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 5/13/05 press performance
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