ABSOLUTE FLIGHT: A Reality Show With Wings
nytheatre.com review by Thomas Bradshaw
August 20, 2006
Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich's play Absolute Flight is attempting to mimic a reality show. Whichever contestant has the most sympathetic and heart-wrenching story will get to strap on a pair of wings, jump out of a plane, and fly. There is the welfare mother who has left her young daughter home alone without rent money, the veteran who has lost his ability to walk and have sex, the TV personality whose child died in a terrorist attack, a man who thinks he's an alien, a rich guy who never grasped why his mother abandoned him when he was a child, and a cancer patient who is literally about to die.
The acting is good and the play does point out some of the inhumanity involved with this trend of reality shows and American society in general. For instance, the contestants have to get into a plane without any assistance from the reality show. The guy in the wheelchair is forced to throw himself onto the floor and slide across the ground into the plane. Another instance is when the contestants have to guess whether they've won the contest or not. When the welfare mother guesses that she's won and decides to stay on the show, they tell her that if she had decided to leave the show the would have given her a beautiful apartment in a doorman building. But since she guessed wrong she has to leave the show and go back to her unfulfilling life.
Though there are these moments when the play is entertaining, the structure and tone of the play don't really work. The first 45 minutes of the play consist of the contestants telling their stories so that the network can come up with sound bites for them. The welfare mother goes on and on and on about her hardship in life and the TV personality keeps getting distracted from her story because the cancer patient seems like she's about to die onstage.
It seemed like the audience was actually supposed to become invested in and care about the drama onstage, otherwise why would it go on so long? I suppose the playwright may have been attempting to show the drama that goes on in these shows, but, much like a train wreck, at least that drama is interesting from time to time. Instead of experiencing that disgusted awe (and associated guilt), I felt like I was at a lecture. Who doesn't know that American Popular culture is superficial and hollow?
If a play is going to deal with a subject that everyone already knows about, then it needs to reveal something about the subject that we don't already know. In this play's attempt to be an earnest interrogation of the reality TV industry, its bite is lost. Whatever humor is used to highlight the absurdity of the situation is limp and the play suffers for it. I sympathize with the author's good intentions, but if one is to walk in the realm of social satire, one must carry a bigger and more sophisticated stick.