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A CurtainUp Review
Five Flights

It's important no its necessary for people to believe in something. . . it's necessary necessary for them to be allowed to live in that belief
---Olivia to the more earthbound Jane who counters with "There is one thing I can't abide. And that's when someone thinks they've made a big discovery oh oh oh oh and suddenly I have to live in that belief with them. . .I'm not having it."
Matthew Montelongo & Jason Butler Harner
Matthew Montelongo &Jason Butler Harner (Photo: Sandra Coudert)
Adam Bock writes punchy often hilarious and occasionally poetic dialogue that seems to have built-in meaningful looks, pauses and movements. But the funniest scene in Five Flights, his new play that just opened at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, is wordless. It's a scene that has us "watch " a ballet by watching four of the characters eyes and heads bobbing in time to Tchaikovsky's music.

Five Flights also features several romantic encounters which are funny and touching because of what's seen more than what's said. Adding to the amusement are the weirdly amusing balletic gestures and exits of the actors. No wonder the program has a choreography credit (Julia Adam)! Not that there aren't plenty of words and ideas to chew over in this, CurtainUp's second encounter with playwright Adam Bock's serious and seriously funny contemplation of the human condition.

In The Typographer's Dream, which Les Gutman reviewed last year (see link below), Bock chose three disparate people to examine the value of their chosen fields of work. In Five Flights, his plot revolves around three adult siblings' decision about what to do with the legacy of a decaying, house-sized aviary built by their recently deceased father for his previously deceased wife's soul.

We only meet two of these three emotionally fragile siblings -- thirty-six-year-old Ed (Jason Butler Harner), who serves as the narrator as well as participant, and his sister Adele (Lisa Steindler), who at thirty-nine still hasn't cut the emotional cord attaching her to her father -- but we get to know Bobby, the oldest through his compulsively orderly wife 39-year-old Jane (Joanna P. Adler). Three other charcters figure importantly in the five scenes depicting the events leading to the decision making process vis-a-vis the aviary which is a metaphor for the various flight patterns life can take: Olivia (Alice Ripley), a forty-plus founder of an offbeat church, the friend Adele wishes were more than a friend; twenty-eight-year-old Andre (Kevin Karrick), a hockey player who encourages his teammate Tom (Matthew Montelongo) to act on his feelings for Ed ("Just kiss him!")

Ed probably has the most stage time. His relationship to the aviary -- a model of which sits on a table before the play begins and which he holds up for closer inspection during his brief opening monologue -- thus might seem to be the central story. What Ed wants is to leave the already deteriorating structure which was his father's way of dealing with his "inconsolable" grief over his wife's death, to just keep crumbling away. Instead of any thoughts to give it new life he opts for the status quo -- in the same way that he grounds his love affair with Tom before it can gain altitude. Thanks to the playwright's knack for bringing all his characters to life and connecting their individual fears, compulsions and hopes into a satisfying whole, this is not a lead-plus-ensemble play, even though Jason Butler Harner is a most engaging Ed. All the characters, even Andre who is the most peripheral, make distinctive contributions to this quirky tragi-comedy -- and all the actors portraying them are outstanding.

Alice Ripley, who's perhaps the biggest "name" in the cast, plays Olivia, as likeable a religious fantatic as you're ever likely to meet. Before preaching her unique gospel in an aptly screechy voice Olivia was a salesperson in a paint shop. In one of his most fanciful absurdities, Bock sets up her friendship with Adele by sending the latter to the shop in search of paint ("peacock blue", naturally) for the aviary on Church Road. It's a vision on top of a vision coming as it does just after Olivia is struck, as if by lightning, by the realization that "a bird is God revealing all" and through the resulting arithmetic involving a lot of five times fives and plus fives evolves into her plan for a Church of the Fifth Day -- made fortuitously possible by the friendship with Adele that's deepened by Adele's being one-third heir to the aviary and a listener so good that Olivia calls her the "Stradivarus of listeners."

Though Olivia's religious plans smack of being the fanciful dream of a woman trapped in an impoverished life, it draws in Ed and the hockey-playing, ballet loving Tom as well as Adele. On the other hand there's always Jane -- a spectacularly funny performance by Joanna P. Adler -- to try to pin Ed and Adele and the never seen Bobby down to a more practical plan that would involve selling the property for retirement home development

Religion, passionate love, the ballet, bird worship . . . there are a lot of ideas to sandwich into five scenes structured somewhat awkwardly around Tom's definition of the ballets he so loves: "The Narrative", "A Vision", "The Mad Scenes", "The Conclusion" . . .plus, " A Little Dance. James Faerron's abstract set manages to accommodate it all, including some modest projections to announce the "scenes" and a locker room encounter that creates a mini-hockey match with an empty shampoo bottle retrieved from an off-stage shower. David Szlasa's lighting, and Drew Yery's bird-y sound design further enhance the production. Alejo Vietti' costumes suit the characters right down to Adele's sturdy rubber shoes that come in for considerable joshing from Ed.

There's a spell a little past the half-way mark when the pace seems to slacken and make everything seem just a bit too drawn out. For most of the hour and forty intermissionless minutes, however, Mr. Bock and director Kent Nicholson keep this quirky play airborne.

The Typographer's Dream

Written by Adam Bock
Directed by Kent Nicholson.
Cast: Joanna P. Adler, Jason Butler Harner, Kevin Karrick, Matthew Montelongo, Alice Ripley and Lisa Steindler.
Set Design: James Faerron
Costume Design: Alejo Vietti
Lighting Design: David Szlasa
Sound Design: Drew Yerys
Choreography: Julia Adam
Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, without intermission
Rattlestick Theatre, 224 Waverly Place (Perry/ W. 11th) 212-868-4444
1/13/04 to 2/22/04; opening 1/19/04.
Tues through Sat @ 8pm, matinees Sat and Sun @ 3pm. Tickets, $37. 50
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on January 16th press performance

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