When Last We Flew
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
August 19, 2010
As a frequent theatregoer, nothing excites me more than discovering a great new author or a great new play. To discover it at random amongst 196 other shows is even better.
Harrison David Rivers's When Last We Flew is "inspired" by Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Set in a Kansas town that is just as far from Dorothy's Oz, Paul is a high school student coming to terms with his homosexuality and the thought that his father walked out on him and Paul's mother because of it. Paul's only sanctuary is the bathroom, where he locks himself away from the outside world to read and reread a copy of Millennium Approaches [Part 1 of Angels in America], which he stole from the local library.
Also in the mix are Paul's mother, who doesn't know how to handle a growing teenager, his best friend Ian, secretly in love with him, and a girl named Natalie, dealing with her expulsion from a private school where she was the only African American and that her new history teacher at the public school is a black history and Holocaust denier.
Colette Robert's production and Rivers' script are by far some of the most polished I've ever seen at FringeNYC. Rivers has a great ear for dialogue and a helluva lot to say about being true to who you are, activism, and race. Who hasn't found solace in a good book or movie when they need an escape from the world? Who hasn't doubted their potential? Who hasn't wanted to rise up, fight the power, and follow their own drummer? Not since I discovered Annie Baker or David Adjmi have I found a writer with such a refreshing, authentic voice.
Some may say that you must know Angels in order to "get" what the play is about, or why a joke about someone crashing into the ceiling is funny. But even if you are unfamiliar with Kushner's best-known work, you can still get a great deal out of the play. (For the record, having worked as a dramaturg on a production of Millennium Approaches, I did get a nice chuckle out of Rivers's allusions, from the "threshold of revelation" to a character named Ellen (as in the actress McLaughlin who played the Angel on Broadway?) whose name is mistaken for "Ella" (one of the roles that the actress playing the Angel also plays).
With a fully committed cast that includes Tamela Aldridge, Wade Allain-Marcus, Christopher Larkin, Rory Limpede, Allison Mackie, Karen Pittman, and Jon-Michael Reese (who is heartbreaking as our hero, Paul), When Last We Flew is a show that just needs to be seen. And I look forward to seeing Rivers's next works, as well.