The synchronicity of Flyboy, the story of an astronaut competing for the most challenging space mission ever, premiering on the same day as the final Space Shuttle flight takes off seems oddly appropriate. This intelligent, absorbing drama points out the sacrifices made by our astronauts and their families while raising issues about what might be required for future exploration.
Jake Young (Jonathan W. Colby) is one of two astronauts competing for the visit space exploration trip outside the solar system to a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. It’s a solo mission with a projected round trip time of 43 years, the culmination of a century of scientific progress.
Who would be the better choice for the mission: Jake, a grounded fifth generation astronaut with the support of a loving wife and an early teen daughter, or Rob Pearce, a wisecracking widower with no family? The decision will not depend upon test scores or flight hours, but instead on NASA’s determination of who is more psychologically suited for the isolation and challenges of the long mission.
The competition occurs under the watchful eye of the paternal Peter Boorman (Richard P. Fiske), who not only knew Jake’s famous father John Young, but was the alternate for John’s historic 400 day pioneering trip to Mars. The psychological testing is intense, and hallucinations reveal the mental conflicts that Jake faces.
As Jake prepares for the prospect of the Alpha Centauri mission, he must deal with his conflicted feelings about his father. The late John Young (Jason Hentrich), a black-outfitted figure who haunts Jake, adapted to the challenges of space flight by keeping his family at a distance. Jake wrestles with the conflict of whether to hold on to his feelings for his wife Megan (Julie Roundtree) and daughter Lei (Camille Speer) or to distance himself psychologically as his father did.
Flyboy is a cleverly written piece that is largely plausible and always interesting. The story is told in an economic manner, slipping in the needed exposition and setting with professional skill. The future era is subtly conjured up with props and set pieces.
The cast of Flyboy is outstanding. Even when the personal issues and the crucible of testing seem a little overdramatic, director Alia Faith-Williams and the actors make it work. The domestic scenes are convincing and the evolution of the family from excited to concerned is handled with sensitivity.
As Fringe venues go, Spooky Universe at the Universalist National Memorial Church is one of the most distant and obscure ones (hint: go around back). Yet when you get there, you’ll find this new space is air conditioned, has comfy seats, and more than worth the trip to see the thoughtful and engrossing Flyboy, as fine a drama as this reviewer has seen in the past three Capital Fringe Festivals.
Flyboy has 4 more performances at the home of Spooky Action Theatre, Spooky Universe at Universalist National Memorial Church, 1810 16th Street NW, Washington, DC.
Steven gives this our top rating, making it a Pick of the Fringe.