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A CurtainUp Review

Charlie Victor Romeo

Charlie Victor Romeo Lands Safely at PS 122
by Elyse Sommer

 Sam Walton, Ben Chinn, Christiann Koop
Sam Walton, Ben Chinn, Christiann Koop (Photo: Bob Berger)
Charlie Victor Romeo has had quite a life since it played at the Collective Unconscious. The docu-drama became a must-see for pilots, was recorded as a training tool for the air force and was part of a lengthy feature on Public Television's Jim Lehrer News Hour. New Yorkers who missed seeing it in 1999 got a second chance when it returned to the Collective: Unconscious Theater in January of 2000 for a four months weekend run at increased but still reasonable ticket prices. And now the show returns to New York once more, this time at PS 122 in the East Village. The price has jumped again,and the six real airline emergencies replicated now take somewhat longer than previously.

If the packed house at the performance I attended is any indication, this often scary replay of six problem flights has not lost its power to enthrall people to whom much of what's said is a foreign language. Don't expect any ripped from the news additions to incorporate terrorist caused emergencies. The focus now, as then, is on being true to the Black Box transcripts and the amazing demonstration of the carry on spirit of the men and women in the cockpit -- that's "carry on" as in try to figure out how to live instead of "carry on" as in the "I'm going to die" emotionalism of a disaster movie or best seller.

You still don't get any back stories on the people in the cockpit but the cast, all but one of them from the last production, continues to capture the tension of grappling with Charlie Victor Romeo's major devil -- malfunctioning machinery and, in the case of the shortest piece, an uncontrollable act of God's creatures (a bevy of flying geese ingested into the plane's engines). A special round of applause is again in order for the brilliant work of sound designer Jamie Mereness.

If you read your program, you'll know the result of each emergency, but being surprised isn't the point here any more than a story line. It's knowing what the people in whom we entrust our lives are up against. I would be much more sanguine if, this piece were required viewing not just for pilots but for the people responsible for checking out the equipment.

Below are the current production notes-- and below that Les Gutman's review which is as up-to-date in its observations as the production itself.

Created by Bob Berger, Patrick Daniels and Irving Gregory
Directed by Irving Gregory
Cast: Ben Chinn, Patrick Daniels, Noel Dineen, Irving Gregory, Christiaan Koop, luckydave, Debbie Troche, Sam Walton
Original Set Designand Techical Director: Patrick Daniels
Set Design:: Bill Ballou and Cecile Boucher
Lighting: Matthew Eggleton
Sound Design: Jamie Mereness
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission
P.S. 122 (150 First Avenue @ E. 9th Street (212-477.5288 or,
From 5/26/04; opening 6/07/04
Tues through Sun @ 8pm; Sat @ 3pm -- $30

-- The original review by Les Gutman

"Well, I guess I won't be flying anymore."

That quote is not from one of the pilots  in the throes of an actual aircraft emergency in Charlie Victor Romeo.  It's from my theater-going companion on our way out, and it is one measure of the powerful way this work resonates for its audience. It may not be typical theater fare, but I'd be hard pressed to remember the last time I saw something more theatrically effective. 

"Charlie Victor Romeo"represents the code words for the letters "C," "V" and""R," which form an acronym for "Cockpit Voice Recorder," the black box that gives air safety experts a guide to the causes of air catastrophes. This play puts us in the cockpits of six planes as the pilots wrestle, mentally and physically, to save the aircraft, the passengers and themselves from impending doom. It's harrowing and, although your first instinct might be to dismiss this as a sick downtown stunt, don't be deceived. The creators of this show take their subject as seriously as it demands. They are fastidious and, if the airline experts who've seen it are to be believed, exceptionally realistic. 

There is, you will notice, no playwright credited in the box below. That's because the dialogue we hear comes directly from transcripts of the six black boxes. They reveal things about what happens "up there,"some of which we probably would rather not know. We see everything from heroism to panic, from professionalism to incompetence. 

Most people will recall at least some of the accidents replayed here. They range from a relatively happy ending (no fatalities) to the deadliest single-airplane accident in aviation history; some transpire with frightening speed; others unfold with achingly slow terror. The latter, though painful, offer unmatchably profound insight into what it is to be human. Arthur Hailey's Airport pales by comparison. 

The cast is extremely capable, rendering each of the six scenes with extreme realism. A simple set, in which the audience looks over the nose of the plane into the cockpit, is quite effective. Of equal or perhaps greater importance is the sound design Jamie Mereness has engineered to give the audience the feeling that it is a part of each of these flights, but without over-reaching to manipulate emotions that, quite clearly, are already very much in play. 

At $10, this production is certainly a bargain. Then again, as the saying goes, even though you're paying for the whole seat,  you'll only use the edge. 

Produced and directed by Bob Berger, Patrick Daniels, Irving Gregory, Mike Bruno and Stuart Rudin 

With Bob Berger, Julia Berger, Mike Bruno, Audrey Crabtree, Patrick Daniels, Justin Davila, Jim Grady, Irving Gregory, Dan Krumm, Stuart Rudin, Darby Thompson and Oliver Wyman 
Set Design: Pat Daniels 
Lighting: Peter O'Clair 
Sound Design: Jamie Mereness 
Running time:  1 hour, 10 minutes with no intermission  
Collective: Unconscious Website:  
Collective: Unconscious, 145 Ludlow (Stanton/Rivington) (212) 254-5277 
Opened January 13, 2000 Closes April 1, 2000 
Reviewed by Les Gutman 2/12/2000 based on a 2/10/2000 performance
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