By Jenny Lyn Bader; Directed by Jessica Bauman
Produced by Turn to Flesh Productions
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs Through 5.23.15
The Workshop Theatre, 312 West 36th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 5.15.15
Drew Ledbetter in In Flight. Photo by John Hoffman.
BOTTOM LINE: Corporate politics clash with literary integrity in this contemporary comedy, written entirely in rhyming couplets.
Marty (Danielle O’Farrell), an editor-in-chief of an in-flight magazine, has her choice of three candidates for an open position as a travel writer: Andrew (Drew Ledbetter), a touchy-feely poet who seems like a mess but has an encyclopedic knowledge of great literature; Page (Lynnette R. Freeman), an interesting, articulate, and responsible woman who clearly seems like the best person for the job; and Ted (Jackson Thompson), the son of Marty’s boss Melanie (Ginger Grace), a woman who owns not only the magazine, but also the airline that the magazine was created to promote. When Marty realizes she has two openings instead of one, she hires both Andrew and Ted – everyone except the best candidate.
The plot thickens when Andrew spontaneously kisses Marty and they end up in bed – or on desk – together. But the tone of the play changes abruptly in Act Two when Andrew is sent off to South Asia to write about Bhutan, a country that quickly spirals into civil war. Marty’s disgust with her job and company climaxes when she gets word that Andrew has been killed. But when Andrew inexplicably shows up back at the office, Marty realizes just how gullible she has been, and works to correct her past mistakes and maybe even seize control of the magazine.
If I've given away too much in my synopsis, it's only because it was a little hard to grasp just where this flight was headed until it had fully arrived. Many of Bader’s twists and turns come out of nowhere, and at no point did I have confidence that the pilot was in full control of the aircraft. Bader is obviously proud of the fact that she wrote the entire play in rhyming couplets, and at times the rhymes are quite clever and amusing. Unfortunately, she spends a little too much time structuring her language, and not enough time shaping her plot.
O’Farrell, however, does her best to keep the play on course as our protagonist, making her character’s strength and competence abundantly apparent. Freeman also hands in one of the more stable performances of the production; even though her character gets the least stage time, she brings a nice sense of justice to the conclusion. Elli Engstrom’s set design deserves credit for accomplishing a great deal with very little. She adorns the office’s back wall and floor with the image of an old fashioned navigation map creating elegance and wonderful cohesion in her design.
In a program note, Bader claims that writing in verse helped her find economy of language: “I discovered that lines not significant enough to put in verse felt too insignificant to keep.” But if anything, the rhyming couplets force Bader to include superfluous words that merely serve as a set up for a rhyme. The script is peppered with unnecessary syllables that are transparently arranged to complete a verse and are not motivated by the characters’ needs. While the result is often pleasant for the ear, it sort of muddies the story. This is a case in which a playwright is willing to sacrifice story in the interest of flaunting her language. So while the producers of this show don’t miss an opportunity to boast that this is a play written in rhyming couplets, I would argue that Bader has written rhyming couplets that take the form of a play.
(In Flight plays at The Workshop Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, through May 23, 2015. Performances are Mondays at 8; Wednesdays at 2 and 8; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8; and Sundays at 7. Tickets are $18 and are available at turntoflesh.com.)