The lights dim, the audience grows quiet, and an unnamed man calmly rises from the back of the theater. With his distinctive, deliberate voice and slight lisp, Luther Jett describes a dream of New York City at peace, free from the scars of 9/11. You’re Flying to America with Luther Jett as your pilot, so just sit back and enjoy the flight.
Jett’s one-man show presents his poetic observations on the American experience in an elegantly simple format. Jett paces around a small stage, reading from his notebook and occasionally switching hats to signal a change in tone. The fedora brings with it a more removed, omniscient approach to the American experience, while the baseball cap, whether worn forwards or backwards, usually seems to conjure up specific characters waxing nostalgic about their small town or city neighborhood.
It’s difficult to pinpoint any narrative structure within the performance beyond a general stream of consciousness approach. The ideas flow unfiltered from Jett’s imagination, which proves to be both a blessing and a curse. At his best, Jett spins off beautiful phrases that trace vivid images of American life in a hypnotic cadence. The chapters “The Sea in Buckets” and “Why The Ocean Tastes of Tears” provide insightful and original perspectives on our collective culture, touching both small town and city life. “The Mop Up”, by far my favorite poem of the show, seems to caution against the pride that goes before the fall of any great civilization. It describes, in glorious detail, a grand parade processing through a beautiful golden city, after which a catastrophic flood quickly swallows the shining metropolis from street to spire. It’s a striking piece that arcs from joyous reveling to heartrending catastrophe in the space of a few short lines, showcasing the best of Jett’s ability to completely envelop the audience within his fascinating creative realm.
At his worst, Jett seems to be stringing nouns and adjectives together with no purpose other than to shock or bewilder. In particular, within the suite of poems entitled “The Boy on the Tarmac”, it is extremely difficult to glean any real significance from the string of crazy visions and metaphors Jett jams into each stanza. I searched hard for a deeper meaning, but I’m not sure there was any to be found. Perhaps this was his point, but whatever the intent, this large section of the performance seems to be an exercise in forced profundity. This problem is exacerbated by Jett’s deliberate delivery, which occasionally borders on monotony and makes his vibrant imagery run together. If he brought more varied inflection to his performance, it would allow each image to shine on its own, instead of diminishing its value by letting it bleed into the next.
Flying to America is a strange and often inspired journey through the cultural history of these United States. While the plodding, repetitive delivery style and initial series of gibberish poems may lose some people, there’s plenty of beauty to be found within the poet’s creative meanderings across the American landscape. Bring an open mind and an open heart, and your captain Luther Jett will take care of the rest.
Flying to America
Written, Directed, and Performed by Luther Jett
Reviewed by Ben Demers