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Surface to Air
So it is in David Epstein's stimulating drama Surface to Air which is receiving its world premiere at Symphony Space—the second entry in that Upper West Side venue's Summer Stock on Broadway series. Set on Long Island shortly after 9/11, Surface to Air dramatizes the tension within a family that has gathered to receive and bury the ashes of the oldest son. His body has only recently been recovered in Vietnam, where the bomber he was piloting crashed thirty years earlier.
On the wide proscenium stage at Symphony Space, James Noone's living room set suggests a household that has barely moved forward since 1971, when Rob (Mark J. Sullivan) died. Princess (Lois Smith), Rob's white-haired mother, spends her time sitting in an armchair, listening to a long-ago audio tape of her kids singing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" while her husband Hank (Larry Bryggman) lovingly waits on her. Rob himself appears wearing a torn U.S. Air Force uniform and splashed with an otherworldly white light. Standing on the deck outside the house, he talks about his parents and tells the story of his final, catastrophic mission.
Rob's younger brother and sister have tried to move beyond the tragedy. Eddie (James Colby), who also fought in Vietnam, became an alcoholic but has now found a new, ebullient young new wife in Magdalena (Marisa Echeverria). Terri (Cady Huffman) has become a successful, if typically hyper, Hollywood deal-maker and is happily married to comparatively mellow Andrew (Bruce Altman), who makes documentary films.
Epstein, who writes movie (Palookaville) and television scripts (China Rose) as well as stage plays, has created an engaging, if conventional, drama. Surface to Air offers passionate conflict and a stimulating range of characters, and while a couple of them are clichés—Hank often sounds like your better-dead-than-Red anti-Communist and Terri as though she stepped out of a sitcom—all together they provide an intriguing mix. Even if Eddie's arguments with his father rehash pros and cons that we've heard for years, Epstein inserts an unusual ingredient in the person of Andrew, who escaped the draft but now longs, to Eddie's fury, for the awful experience that the Vietnam vet desperately wants to forget. Finally, by setting his play after 9/11 but before the American assault on Iraq, he allows the characters' various perspectives to color the conflict still to come.
James Naughton's direction feels somewhat stiff, but the mostly excellent cast fleshes out their characters and the drama's array of intertwining relationships. Smith imbues Princess with an affecting blend of humor and pathos, and Colby and Echeverria create marvelous chemistry onstage. Huffman, who won a Tony Award for her hilarious performance as sexy Swedish Ulla in The Producers, could lower the shrillness a notch, and the family arguments occasionally escalate to a point where everyone sounds as though they are simply yelling. Still, this sturdy production illuminates Epstein's point, and a trenchant one it is: war waged to serve politicians' egos is a horrific waste of human treasure.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide