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A CurtainUp Review
Man in the Flying Lawn Chair
By Les Gutman
Man in the Flying Lawn Chair grows out of a play development program at 78th Street Theatre Lab called "From Page to Stage" which, in the tradition of the Living Newspaper, looks to news stories for inspiration. Here, that effort demonstrates, yet again, that the truth is stranger than fiction. Larry Walters (Toby Wherry) was a truck driver in Southern California who had an idea, perhaps you'd call it a dream or an obsession, that it would be cool to attach weather balloons to a lawn chair and go for a ride around his neighborhood. When released from its tethers, Larry's "craft" catapulted to 16,000 feet -- high enough to become the subject of conversation between airplanes and the local control tower. The event also afforded Larry his fifteen minutes of fame, including an appearance on the Letterman show.
The play is as smart, funny and thoughtful as it is wacky and bizarre. Don't let its uptown location fool you; it has a decidedly downtown sensibility. And don't let the gag of its central story mislead you either: it's far more layered than you'd likely expect, dealing not just with its inherent comic potential, but with a deeper exploration of the nature of dreamers -- no matter how Rube Goldbergian their dreams -- and Larry's search for love and respect as well.
Eric Nightengale has done a fine job of staging this collaborative project, which never takes itself too seriously but also avoids becoming a joke. At its center, Toby Wherry presents an endearing Larry, not your typical truck driver, nor should he be. He has the requisite goofiness, but it's tempered with a great dose of humanity. The remainder of the ensemble -- all of whom portray multiple characters with agility -- are excellent. Carey Cromelin is particularly winning as the blind and drunk (but not blind drunk) mother of Larry's girlfriend, Carol (Kimberly Reiss), whom Reiss conveys with a particularly apt early Eighties mien. Troy Taber gets perhaps the broadest range of assignments, and transforms himself ably, while Monica Read gets to play a host of mostly ethnic (and New Yorkish) characters, which repeatedly bring us smiles.
Set design, bare bones but properly so and often tongue-in-cheek, is fine; lighting and sound design are more elaborate and especially effective. The finished product reflects in all respects the intense creative effort of all parties concerned.