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A CurtainUp Review
Human Error

I heard something. I got scared. I reached for Sherry. She had stepped away from me. Just a few steps. I was reaching for air.— Ron
Human Error
Tim Guinee & Meg Gibson (Photo: Monique Carboni)
Write a play or novel about a plane crash, or its aftermath, and thoughts inevitably turn to 9/11. And so it is initially with Keith Reddin's new drama Human Error, now receiving its world premiere at Atlantic Theater Company's Atlantic Stage 2. A plane has crashed in a field in the Midwest killing all aboard and one person on the ground. Two investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, a man and a woman, visit the site to determine what triggered the disaster. Along the way they have a sexual encounter and also meet the lone person on the ground who survived the plane's fiery end.

But as it turns out, Reddin's brief play is not so much about surviving monumental mechanical failure as it is about living with the consequences of human error—the sort of human error that occurs when you fall in love with the wrong person, or disregard your child's need for affection, or simply are in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Human Error, the female investigator, Miranda (Meg Gibson), is recovering from an emotionally damaging relationship; her colleague, Erik (Tim Guinee), is estranged from his wife and daughter; and Ron (Ray Anthony Thomas), who was out walking in the field with his wife when the plane scudded violently into their path, just could not save the woman he loved.

Described in this way, Reddin's play sounds thoughtful and touching, as indeed it could be if it were not so contrived. But to get his plot underway, Reddin asks us to accept that smart, well-defended Miranda would bed crass Erik who sprinkles his conversation with the sort of sexual remarks you'd expect from a high school sophomore. Of course sexual chemistry can occur between the strangest of couples, but at Atlantic Stage 2, there isn't much chemistry between Guinee and Gibson.

In fact the plot is so contrived—there's the inevitable secret on Erik's side and the predictable, painful discovery on Miranda's—that for a moment one wonders if Reddin is constructing his play this way on purpose. But that purpose is hard to decipher, unless it's to contrast transient sexual intensity with the deep grief, and finally the acceptance, experienced by Ron. There is human error and, this play attempts to demonstrate, there is also the human capacity for moving on.

The mission of Atlantic Stage 2, the sleek 99-seat house that the Atlantic Theater Company opened in 2006, is to present untried work, and certainly Reddin could hardly ask for a better production. Set designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella efficiently uses projections to suggest the field where the plane went down, and a few easily moveable set pieces create the interior scenes. Jeff Croiter's lighting subtly suggests the particular brightness of a fall day or the depressing, pallid light of Erik's motel room. Under Tracy Brigden's energetic direction the action moves at a good clip, but not at the expense of the actors' moment-to-moment work. Thomas invests Ron's scenes with both pain and dignity, and Guinee, saddled with the script's most superficial role, makes Erik a believable jerk. Gibson is particularly pleasurable to watch, for her Miranda is funny, caustic and open, and ultimately it is Gibson's performance that makes Human Error worth seeing.

Human Error
By Keith Reddin
Directed by Tracy Brigden
Cast: Meg Gibson (Miranda); Tim Guinee (Erik); Ray Anthony Thomas (Ron)
Produced by Atlantic Theater Company at Atlantic Stage 2
Sets: Luke Hegel-Cantarella
Costumes: Markas Henry
Lights: Jeff Croiter
Sound and original Music: Eric Shim
Produced by Atlantic Theater Company at Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th St. 212-279-4200
Running Time: approximately 70 minutes, no intermission
Limited run, Aug. 1- Aug. 26
Performances Tues.-Fri at 7:30 p.m.; Sat. at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: $35;
Reviewed by Alexis Greene at August 7, 2007 press preview
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