In the art of navigation, the compass is a crucial instrument – no more so than when partaking in the act of flight. Fans of aviation will be familiar with the figure of Charles Lindbergh, the pilot who gained fame upon completing the first non-stop solo transatlantic flight. Lesser known, perhaps, is his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a gifted author and aviator in her own right. We come to know her in the for/ward company’s production of North at 59E59 Theaters. Self-described as “the story of a woman’s life and ordeal…any woman…any ordeal,” North examines what stands to be won and lost when flying into the eye of the storm.
As conceived by Christina Ritter and playwright/director Jennifer Schlueter, North is a work of historical fiction inspired by the writings, journals, and correspondence of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (“St-Ex”), who spent a single weekend visiting the couple in 1939. Despite Anne’s imperfect French – and St-Ex’s inability to speak a word of English – theirs is a charged meeting of like minds, and their communication approaches communion (a theme Lindbergh would often revisit in her own work).
Even as Anne struggles to keep her life and alliances in order in the face of challenging life and world events – including losing her first born to kidnappers-turned-murderers in what was once called “the crime of the century” – Ritter imbues her character with a joyful spirit to offset some of the gravitas.
Christopher Marlowe Roche as St-Ex is the portrait of a winsome Little Prince approaching middle age. Kalafatic Poole as former golden-boy Charles is, as Anne puts it, “perfectly direct and natural.” All are engaging performers, and the small ensemble is a delight to watch.
Within the 75-minute one-act that is, by turns, confessional and existential, Schlueter manages to create a world that is filled with flight: with words, spirit, and with movement. Assisted by choreographer Karen Mozingo and set designer Brad Steinmetz, the three actors deftly navigate weight-bearing swings strung from the rafters and a wooden ladder that appears to go nowhere but up.
Costume designer Kristine Kearney hints at the period-appropriate, keeping the men in suits, ties, and suspenders, and Ritter in a red day dress that perfectly catches the air when she takes flight. Lighting designer Anjeanette Stokes plays with the occasional harsh spot and shadow, and sometimes bathes the stages in reds and blues. My one complaint, if I had to list one, was an awkward closing music cue. As an audience member, I would have been quite content for Anne to fly up and out in blissful silence after offering her closing thoughts.
Having long been a fan of the work of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and fascinated by the creative, spiritual camaraderie she forged with Saint-Exupéry, I was pleased to have had the opportunity to see this production. Schlueter and her actors effectively paint a portrait of a woman trying to rise above the confines of gender and societal roles on her passage to maintain personal integrity. Check your internal compass, and set course for North. It is a theatrical journey worth taking.