05 January 2009

WICKETS: Another thing I'm excited about.

One of my favorite theatrical experiences in my post-collegiate life is back in NYC! The show is called WICKETS, and it's a 60's Airline Stewardess version of Fefu and Her Friends (which I admit I have never read/seen).

Here is a review I wrote about the show when I first saw a developmental production of it in Feb '07 (written for a now-defucnt online newsletter for a now-defunct "industry jobs" website). (NOTE: It looks like the Moira Stone who so impressed me will not be reprising her role. In fact, it looks like the whole cast is new this time around. I have to admit, the original performances is not quite so vivid in my mind now as the overall experience, so I doubt I will notice the change...though I do wonder where Moira Stone is now.)

Before Heidi had Chronicles, Fefu had friends. Maria Irene Fornes' 1977 play FEFU AND HER FRIENDS concerns a group of women convening in a New England home and sharing their womanly fears and wants with a probing, if not always sympathetic, Fefu as their leader. Like Heidi, Fefu does not always buy into the notion that women are all "in it together".

WICKETS, presented as a "work in progress" by Clove Galilee and Jenny Rogers' company Trick Saddle as part of HERE Arts Center's Culturemart, surrounds Fefu—and the audience—with a 1970s jetliner. There is no formal stage per se, although the curtain to the cockpit does occaisionally open up to reveal a singing angel of sorts. So completely realized is the play-within-a-plane device that any fears of gimmickry dissipates into the controlled air, allowing the insight to outshine the conceit. If there is a more rigid image of womanly values than that of the vintage flight attendant, aside from June Cleaver and Laura Bush, I'd like to see it. The fact that the pristine hair and make-up, the devotion to the selfless-service to men, comes at the peak of the feminist-movement points up its ridiculousness, as well as its relevance to Fornes' original play.

The coup de theatre of Fornes' work—wherein four scenes happen simultaneously as the audience, split into four groups, travels from one to he other—is perhaps one-upped in the Trick Saddle version. Here the audience remains stationary and is quatro-sected by curtains under the guise of turning down the plan for the overnight portion of the trans-Atlantic flight. Here, configurations of stewardesses come into each compartment and, in hushed tones (so as not to awaken the sleeping passengers) perform their respective scenes. The timing of the assorted traffic patterns—with some characters appearing in more than one scene and with that scene depending on his/her respective appearance—is dazzling, but only after the fact. During the scenes, as in the rest of the evening, the acting is what inspires.

Moira Stone. Moira Stone. Moira Stone. Remember that name. (What name? Moira Stone) As Fefu, Ms. Stone has the gravitas, charm, wit and class to clearly set her apart as a leader, both as a character and an actress, in an ensemble that is uniformly excellent.

So what made this fully realized, beautifully acted, production a "work in progress"? Well, it likes to think of itself as a "celestial rock opera" (remember the angelic man in the cock-pit?), a label I have a hard time with. There were only three songs proper, plus in impromptu, a capella, rendering of "Leaving on a Jet Plane". The music contributed to the style and feel of the evening, but disoriented more than enlightened. But Trick Saddle is planning a January 2008 remount where I trust these issues to be resolved. I, for one, plan on racking up quite a few frequent-flyer miles when they do.

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