Equity Library Theatre Chicago and the Wild Frontier, at Chicago Dramatists Workshop.
The recent air and water show on Chicago’s lakefront may have put people in a fine mood for thrilling tales of magnificent men and women in their flying machines, but unfortunately once Wingwalkers’ roaring engines and Aaron Copland overture conclude, the play is quickly grounded. Wanda Strukus’s script is burdened by its many hackneyed themes and intrigues: frustrated ambitions, illicit passions, sublimated envy, suicidal despair and loneliness drowned in alcohol, and (PG-13) sex. Will spunky country girl Marlin find fame and romance? Will Bernie, the aging flyboy, follow his midlife bliss? Will his vapid, needy, fearful wife continue to devour others?
Do we care? The participants in the Grace Air Show–all clad in fashions straight out of this year’s Lord & Taylor catalog, though the play is set in the 1920s–could just as easily be denizens of a 1980s corporate boardroom, a 1940s military base, the Ziegfeld Follies, or Melrose Place. Likewise stultifying are the building-block set, which forces us to reorient ourselves with every new scene, and the clumsy direction: at one point, Marlin is doing her allegedly dazzling stunt work all but hidden from view by a crowd of onstage spectators.
Strukus clearly intends aviation to be a metaphor for self-empowerment (cf Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying) and nothing more. A stalwart cast, some of them members of Equity Library Theatre, struggle mightily, but no air-water rescue could save this script, and it sinks in the soapsuds.