In the world of comedy, there’s a fine line between farce and false; placing characters in seemingly outrageous situations with over the top comedic performances can (if not done carefully and precisely) spell disaster. The ability to balance on this precocious tightrope shows the theatrical prowess of a creator. When the cast and crew of The Last Flight took the stage to perform at The National Academy of Performing Arts in San Fernando on Sunday 18th September 2016, they set out to navigate the particulars of this style of performance. Unfortunately, they missed the mark.
The Last Flight tells the story of eight strangers, their lives, and how they intertwine when they cross paths on an airline to Columbia. It’s an exploration of life choices and the consequences that accompany them. Carlos and Maria Sanchez (David Wilson and Chrisal Martin) are a cross generational couple in the beginnings of their nuptials but the motives of one partner are a little dubious. Gabrielle and her mother (Janelle Mark and Candi Gordon) have their relationship uprooted by a family secret. Prophet Houston (Mark Nedd), his materialism and womanizing antics conflict with his calling while his deacon side-kick James (Marlon Geetooah) observes disapprovingly from the sidelines. Drug Kingpin Hector Rodriguez (Nigel Joseph) tries to balance his demons with his humanity while still battling to remain the head honcho. Then there’s Lisa Cold (Celeste Ferriera) who allows her new job as a flight attendant and her superficial nature to get the better of her.
It’s a fact of theatre that the atmosphere of a piece is set in the first ten minutes. What Flight did was try to tell five separate ten minute introductions that left the play feeling labored. When one scene finished and another started, it went on for such a long time that the previous scene was forgotten. Add three more of those to this formula and you have a first act of characters that have been sitting so long in the wings that they needed to be reintroduced. The thread of the production began to unravel even before the halfway point. Throughout the play actors frequently broke the proscenium to include the audience, asking questions or having them join in on monologues. While some productions work well with this approach, Flight did not need it. The actors seemed way too preoccupied with audience satisfaction to really focus on their scene partners. There was a lot of acting at and little acting with which left the material to fall flat.
My biggest issue after all of this lay with the content of the play. There was an obvious bias in the material painting the ‘villainous’ characters as nothing more than clichés in need of fixing. The writing team failed to reach the depth of humanness within each character, opting instead to run with the stereotypes each character represents. The entire play was a sermon on sinner versus saint with little attempt to address their idiosyncrasies. For persons looking on from the outside who may identify with any of the characters, it was two and a half hours of preaching and berating with a side of condemnation.
The characters are depicted by their most banal characteristics; the gold-digger, the crooked pastor, the atheist. While these may be titles placed upon them, they are in no way the definition of the persons who carry them. They also addressed the topic of homosexuality but attempted no discourse. It was a one sided argument waving the banner of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” As a playwright, comprehensive knowledge on a topic or perspective gives the material a certain depth that breathes life into a piece. Flight was one-dimensional.
There’s a trend in local theatre where we love to tell and not discuss. The point of the evening is to have the audience agree with what we’re saying instead of having them think about what we’re sharing. When we approach the creation process with a bias and the notions of stereotypes, we forget that these only give a surface telling of people’s lives while the undercurrents churn unnoticed. It’s the complications, the turmoil, the hardships, the silent moments that make theatre magical. The beauty of theatre lies in its power to create social change, to educate through experiences, to develop the ability to communicate though thoughts and feelings and to express our deepest and darkest thoughts in ways that ordinary interactions cannot.
To ignore this power completely undermines theater’s ability to ask though-provoking questions and effect a mental and cultural shift and ultimately dishonors the creative space. As a performer and thespian who has worked with intricate materials and attended numerous productions that cover a myriad of topics, I was looking for an immersive theatre experience. Instead I was left wanting better character development, a more sophisticated storyline, more thoughtful writing, tighter scenes and a desire to explore personalities. There were moments I so desperately wanted to enjoy but those were grossly overshadowed by a lack of depth in the writing and a completely missed opportunity to discuss important topics. I only wish they’d put as much creative effort into the play as they did with the ticket printing.
About the Author:
Isaiah is a graduate of the Musical and Dramatic Academy of New York and is a member of the Actors’ Equity Association through its Equity Membership Candidate Program. He is also a member of The Gentlemen; a hip hop dance group based in San Fernando. He has performed extensively in musicals both local and internationally. Credits include West Side Story (Fireside Dinner Theatre), Chicago (Potsdam Music Theatre) and Crazy For You (Queen’s Hall).