Fringe 2011 Review: Fourteen Flights
Posted by metaphorical on 18 August 2011
VENUE #3: CSV Kabayitos
Performance seen: Wed 17 @ 8
Remaining performances: Sun 21 @ 4 Mon 22 @ 4:15 Fri 26 @ 8:45 Sat 27 @ 4:45
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)
“Fourteen Flights” is an extraordinary show. The writing, with the rhythms of Aaron Sorkin’s “Sports Night” and the situational intensity of Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad,” demands an exceptional level acting and direction. Great architecture demands great engineering; fortunately, the cast and crew here are theatrical engineers of the highest caliber.
The play is at once very simple and very complex. Two airline pilots will have a near-death flight experience (for themselves; thirteen passengers will die) in Act II. Act I consists of their backstories, related more for the audience than through interactions between them; in fact, at times they take a role of interacting with the other on behalf of some character in that person’s life (ex-wife, son, etc.).
Some of these stories are told two three at a time, with the other pilot also relating some story. It’s not hard to follow, but the details often don’t matter so much as the poetry of the words and the shape of the lives that are reconstructed. Scenes rise and fall like waves crashing on the beach.
It’s hard to convey just how extraordinary a job Jared Houseman and Matt Macnelly do as the two pilots. (Maurice Williams is also excellent in a small role: two scenes that bookend the play.) One of the reasons I looked forward to “Fourteen Flights” as much as I did was the knowledge that it was the same company as last year’s “Art of Attack,” perhaps my favorite show in the 2010 Fringe. Halfway through watching “Fourteen Flights” I realized I must have confused two plays—something else must be this year’s play by the “Art of Attack” guys, because those actors were nowhere to be seen. In fact, though, that’s just a mark of how deeply Houseman, who last year won himself an Excellence In Performance By An Actor Award, buries himself in his roles. And yet, this year, I liked Macnelly’s performance even better.
As for the story, it would be easy to believe that playwright Ryan Campbell has no overarching message here. If there is one, it’s that life is what we make of it, except when fate intervenes, and success—or even survival—can break a man just as easily as defeat. How many of the people around us leading the life of the golden child have simply never been tested? It’s a question extraordinarily asked and answered in “Fourteen Flights.”
[more fringe 2011 reviews here]