The FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, American Blues Theatre. This adaptation of Elleston Trevor’s famed adventure novel is one of the few shows I can recall where the intermission provides the most inspiring and dramatic moments: watching a ragtag crew reassemble Patrick Kerwin’s brilliantly designed cargo plane (which is supposed to have crash-landed in the Libyan desert) creates a true sense of wonder.
But most of the play is given over to squabbles, fits of madness, and power struggles as beleaguered crew members and passengers must decide whether to conserve their energy and wait to be rescued or put all their resources behind a cockeyed plan to build a new aircraft out of the wreckage. The plot worked well enough in the 1966 film, when the crew was led by world-weary Jimmy Stewart and the cast included great character actors like Ian Bannen and Richard Attenborough. But onstage in the hands of less seasoned performers, some of whom don’t maintain consistent accents, the conflicts feel contrived. And despite some winning performances–most notably Jim Leaming as a cocky oil rigger and Andrew Micheli as a pathetic dreamer–most of the characters’ backgrounds and motivations are insufficiently developed.
Adapter Tim Hendrickson’s short, staccato vignettes undermine the drama, as do frequent blackouts and two superfluous explanatory sequences at the beginning of the first and second acts. Only at the end, when Kerwin’s majestic Phoenix prepares to take to the skies, does this earthbound drama take flight.