BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
by Julian and Rhona Frazin
The story of the WASPS is one that should be told as the nation hails its World War II veterans in filmed tributes such as Band of Brothers and books like Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation. Playwright Laird deserves credit for bringing the story of the Sky Girls to light. However, the play stalls a bit on take off, and doesn't reach a comfortable cruising altitude until well into the second act, when it settles into more lyrical and sustained story telling.
In the first act, Laird introduces her five heroines, broadly drawn archetypes not unlike those of World War II battlefield films or Claire Booth Luce's The Women, in jumpsuits and khaki, instead of high couture. They are led by Mags, a tough talking, but ultimately fiercely loyal gal from Chicago's southside, played with swagger and sass by Jen Engstrom; and Bishop (Michele Graff), a wiry, barnstorming veteran of the flying circus whose jocular stoicism and fierce determination and work ethic mask the memory of abandonment. They are joined in their Stalag 17-style barracks by the naïve, romantic Breeny (Paula Stevens), Lil (Julie Ganey) a rich girl from Tennessee and DeLang (Ana Sferruzza), a delicate, haiku-writing crack navigator.
In a series of short Act I vignettes, the women alternately kvetch, swoon and swear to each other and prance and pose for a Movie Tone newsreel. Director BJ Jones does his best with the problematic dramatic device of inserting the historic figure of Jackie Cochran into the fictionalized action. Played with power and ballsy ego by Lia Mortenson, the mink-draped Cochran appears mysteriously at various points in the action, like the Disney-drawn cartoon symbol of the WASPS, Fifinella, who was believed to have magical powers to protect flyers.
The dialog is weighted-down by long strings of 1940's slang, gratuitous references to contemporary screen actors and snips of wartime popular songs like "Coming In on a Wing and a Prayer", "Till the End of Time" and "Remember Pearl Harbor." Unfortunately, they don't mask the fact that there is little significant conversation and even less action that engages the characters.
Dramatic tension finally builds in Act II, when a tragic event gives all the gals a chance to show they've got "the right stuff" and they at last pull together as a family. Up until that point, the plot takes off in too many short-circuited monologues telling of dim-witted brother, a hinted-at lesbian "crush", and an aborted romantic encounter with a Japanese American schoolmate sent off to an internment camp.
Nan Zabriskie's historically accurate costumes fit well into the spectacularly inventive set by Todd Rosenthal. It embraces the sky above and below and literally pulls the audience into the clouds-reminding them of the mysterious attraction that it has always held for mankind-as well as womankind.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.