By Robert Shaffron; Directed by Michael Damico
Produced by The Blue Comet Company
Part of the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.28.15
VENUE #2: Flamboyan Theatre at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street
by Dan Dinero on 8.30.15
BOTTOM LINE: Endless Air, Endless Water is an ambitious play that looks at what happens to two men forced out of the closet on international television.
Gays in space—it sounds like an SNL sketch. Actually, it was an SNL sketch, with all the glitter and latex you could imagine. Endless Air, Endless Water aims for a far more serious treatment of the concept, and if it doesn’t always succeed, there are plenty of promising ideas that might work outside of the limitations of a festival setting.
The set-up: two astronauts on a space mission that is periodically being broadcast live to the public back on Earth. For the experienced Fred (James David Adelman), this is just another voyage; for Ditch (Patrick Judd), the important launch is not the one to space, but the one to fame and fortune he hopes might come with the live broadcast. Whereas Fred is bearish and gruff, Ditch is a looker, charismatic and camera-ready for his first space mission, catch phrase and all. They’re warned early on by supervisor Les (Deon Frank) that when the red light is on, they are live, a warning that clearly foreshadows what is to come: at the end of the first act (and somewhat out of nowhere) Ditch kisses Fred for the entire world to see, a kiss that will prove to have profound repercussions.
The website for Endless Air, Endless Water aptly describes it as “Apollo 13 meets Brokeback Mountain.” Yet as opposed to 1963 Wyoming, one core problem here is why two men kissing is still such a big deal in 2015. Which is not to say homosexuality is readily accepted everywhere; clearly it isn’t. But Robert Shaffron’s script doesn’t really contextualize the difficulties and stakes: is the problem the hyper-masculinity of NASA, or the religious conservatism of Les (a man who unironically uses the word “sodomites”), or a fear of what the television audiences might think? Indeed, Mission Control quickly finds the folks at home aren’t exactly scandalized by the kiss, but since the fame-hungry Ditch had intended to propose to his girlfriend from space, a new “story” must be conceived. This solution—a reframing of the mission as a kind of “experiment,” offers a tantalizing hint of what Endless Air, Endless Water could explore; also intriguing is the other solution bandied about: the potential for two queer astronauts to escape Earth for good and stay in space forever.
Director Michael Damico, along with his design team, has extraordinarily ambitious goals for a Fringe show. On the positive side, Rory Mulholland’s set is an incredibly resourceful solution to the issue of how to create a realistically cramped cockpit, complete with consoles, control panels, and anchored chairs, on the spacious Flamboyan stage. Even better are Karen Boyer’s costumes: the bright orange jumpsuits over navy blue polo shirts are almost spot-on NASA regulation clothing.
More troubling is the sound and video design. Fred and Ditch speak through headsets for the entire play, whether talking to Les back in Texas or just to each other. While this choice yields hyper-realistic sound quality, the resulting obfuscation makes it difficult to understand the lines, something made even harder because both Adelman and Judd speak quite quickly. And then there is the video work: both Les and Ditch’s girlfriend Sheila (Piper Rae Patterson) only appear to the audience on camera, filmed live while the actors are backstage. But because this is the Fringe, technical problems are legion, and during the performance I saw, the live feed stopped working midway through Act 1. Since Damico chose not to show the live actors being filmed (a common enough device in multi-media shows), this meant I barely saw Deon Frank, and completely missed Patterson until she walked out for the bows. Of course, these are not insurmountable problems. But it’s a shame: not only did this team make choices that would be more appropriate for film, but in doing so, they missed many theatrical opportunities.
(Endless Air, Endless Water plays at VENUE #2: Flamboyan Theatre at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, through August 28, 2015. Performances are Wed 8/19 at 4:45; Fri 8/21 at 2:15; Mon 8/24 at 9:15; Wed 8/26 at 7; and Fri 8/28 at 9:35. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit bluecometco.com.)