Fear of Flight is beautifully put together
Created by Jillian Keiley, Robert Chafe, and Jonathan Monro. Produced by Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland in association with Die in Debt. Presented by the Cultch and the 2010 Cultural Olympiad. At the Cultch on Thursday, February 11. No remaining performances
Fear of Flight is as beautifully put together as Italian luggage.
That’s amazing because the components of the text are so disparate that the whole thing could easily fall apart. Director Jillian Keiley and writer Robert Chafe of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland commissioned some of Canada’s foremost playwrights to write five-minute monologues about the fear of flying, and the results are all over the place stylistically.
Marie Clements’s piece is artily surreal; it’s about a woman who grew up in a house where everything was black, except for the bright yellow canary. Daniel MacIvor’s monologue is weirdly whimsical; a chatty gal named Glynis meets Jesus at her front door, invites him in, and gives him her bank card because, “If you can’t trust Jesus, who can you trust?” And Bernie Stapleton’s offering has all the resilience and sorrow of folk art: a bride whose husband died just before the wedding boards the plane in her bridal gown, determined to complete her honeymoon on her own.
Chafe added several characters of his own and cut the other monologues so that they all fit together, more or less. The results are a little lumpy—this lovely luggage is definitely handcrafted. For me, the show really takes off with Glynis, MacIvor’s loopy Jesus-loving character. Especially in the hands of actor Mia Mansfield, Glynis is surprising and endearing. And I enjoyed her row mate, a nervous gay man (penned by Bryden MacDonald and performed by Philip Goodridge), who attempts to overcome his panic about air travel by dressing colourfully. Stapleton’s gormless Bride (Petrina Bromley) and one of Chafe’s characters, an urbane woman traveling to her lesbian sister’s wedding (the able Christine Brubaker), are also particularly memorable. But the tough-talking teenager Judith Thompson wrote feels like a grab bag of the playwright’s gritty imagery, Denise Clarke’s nervous flier only has two notes, and Guillermo Verdecchia’s character, who is flying to visit his estranged young son, repeats himself.
Yet it all comes together. Partly, that’s because of Jonathan Monro’s extraordinary vocal score. Like airborne Swingle Singers, the passengers and flight attendants vocalize throughout almost the entire performance, making music out of snippets of conversation and the nonsense syllables of scatting, as well as rhythms that evoke the structures of both pop and classical music.
Keiley is also a wizard. She creates a visual score out of the characters’ movements, as they shift and slump, and shuffle their newspapers to create tremendously satisfying tableaux.
The entire cast of 14 deserves our applause for its precise work.
And Keiley and Chafe give the evening shape, bringing it to a crescendo of panic as the plane hits serious turbulence. I won’t tell you whether the plane crashes, but I will tell you that it took me a while to come down after seeing Fear of Flight.