nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
August 17, 2011
Have you ever let your mind wander on a long drive? Fourteen Flights, a new piece by Ryan Campbell going up in this year’s FringeNYC, takes that to the extreme by revealing the inner workings of a group of pilots during their various jaunts across the globe. Delving into the various neuroses and destructive character traits that make up these men who take lives in their hands every time they go to work, the show presents a twisted take on flying the friendly skies. Things get kicked into overdrive when the pilots are actually put to the test in a life or death situation and come off as heroes, but their success only leads to greater emotional hardships to endure.
While the script is very good, the key selling point of the piece is the interesting staging by director Joshua Kahan Brody and the fantastic performances by leads Matt MacNelly and Jared Houseman as David Ratigan and Kevin Black respectively. MacNelly and Houseman both have charisma to spare and never quite lose the audience even in their darkest moments of introspection. They show off the best intentions and the worst impulses with remarkable clarity, filled with moments of humor and pain alike. This is a piece that breathes raw emotion, dwelling on the matters of being a good father, a good husband, and ultimately a good man. It’s masculine in the best possible sense, never forgiving these men for their vices and never fully embracing their virtues.
Some attention should be paid to the design. I loved the clever use of strips of blue and white fabric strewn about the stage. The actors pluck pieces and bunches from the ground to turn into whatever prop is necessary. It is clever, keeping the mental image of clouds and the sky in our minds even in the more pedestrian scenes. Lighting by Kristin Hayes is admirable given her limited array of instruments in play. A final note, the program includes several images of artwork that correspond (abstractly) to each scene of the play. It’s a nice touch, giving additional information about the scenes through another medium while never explaining too much.
The only part of Fourteen Flights that confused me was the opening and closing, featuring the character Jake Fort, played by Maurice Williams. His character has his own bushel of problems, though they're never really resolved, and he has only the barest interaction with the other characters. While he provides some back story, it seemed to be mostly unnecessary for my understanding of the plot. It’s a minor gripe, as the part is well played and the overall piece is still very strong in spite of it.
In all, I very much enjoyed this play. As long as you don’t have any anxiety about flying, I’d say this is one of the better shows to come see in this year’s festival.