In Adam Bock’s Five Flights, dad so loved his dead wife, he built a huge, human-sized aviary as a Taj Mahal for her soul. Now, recently deceased, dad has left his heirs its crumbling structure. Sadly, in spite of Bock’s lyrical gift for language and Theater Alliance’s outstanding cast, this play about grief, love and flight plans for life never manages to get off the ground.
Bock, the playwright who scored when he wrote The Receptionist (seen recently at Studio), begins Five Flights with great promise – that of the rich, many splendid metaphoric aviary. The set designed by Klyph Stanford arouses a claustrophobic, casket-like feel, with the proscenium framed with tangled claws of skeleton-white branches.
Just what are the heirs to do with this behemoth left behind by a doting parent? The answer is embedded in a script that circles within itself and implodes – not really building to a climax by the time the feathers fall.
Ed, the son who narrates, played by a droll, mildly detached, deadpanning Eric M. Messner, serves as a guardian of sorts by showing us a small-scale model and telling us dad believed mom was reincarnated as a wren: “All this was asking her to stay.” Ultimately, Ed wants to let the earth reclaim the bird-less glass house. Down-to-earth, crusty sister-in-law Jane wants to raze the place and build something new. Jane is played with such high-spirited animation by versatile Kathleen Akerley, that you can’t wait for her character to re-enter. Jane is married to the other brother, Bobby, the non-believer, who reportedly, indicated that the wren for him was “…just a dumb bird,” an insensate creature, unworthy of such a grand bird cage. The sister, Adele (Helen Pafumi), the more spiritual one, who is in love with eccentric Olivia (a charming and warm Adele Robey), is the one who sees mom’s mausoleum as an emblem of eternity. Furthermore, Adele goes along with Olivia who has visions of remodeling the aviary into her Church of the Fifth Day. When she quotes from the Genesis story that God created birds on the fifth day, sound designer Matt Otto, has a field day with flapping wings, bird calls and screeches. It makes for a delicious, metaphysical moment.
Unfortunately, we never meet Bobby, the skeptic, this holdout for reality. And that’s one of the play’s flaws. Too much is flat-out story-telling, which would be more effective if delivered with a quicker-paced, melodramatic, campy flair, as it is when Tom, the hockey player, (Danny Gavigan) takes his friend Andre (Christopher Herring), Adele and Ed to Swan Lake (a ballet about a bird/woman). This scene without words shows us how people of like interests flock together the way birds do. The characters, backed by Tchaikovsky’s music, create some really amusing moments. But more of the ballet’s exotic, heightened emotional style is needed throughout.
What struck me as overdone was the repeated use of wet, mouth-on-mouth, same-sex kissing that seemed gratuitous, even bothersome, to the point of distracting from the play. In one scene, it’s a set up for a funny line about what men do in bed after they make love. But later when the men’s kisses come from nowhere, the clinches seem unmotivated, superficial, even boring, as if passionate gestures are thrown in to be sensational.
Director Shirley Serotsky sneaks in some stylistic movements by choreographing her actors to dance out brief balletic gestures, such as a mock pas-de-deux, with arabesques and lifts that lift the play as well. But it’s not enough. If there’s supposed to be a phoenix of hope at the end, it doesn’t rise from the ashes.
by Adam Bock
directed by Shirley Serotsky
produced by Theater Alliance
reviewed by Rosalind Lacy