People are funny. In the way we keep making the same mistakes.
Even when we’re conscious of our tendency to run with fallacious reasoning, or a certain set of logical blinders we’re apt to don, or the fact that we’re suckers for a redhead or a good “sob-pitch” involving Africa’s starving kittens we still strut boldly forth right into the path of that custard cream pie of our own foibles.
I mention this because the first time I went off to review a certain play, I expected it to be an evening precariously poised on the thin boundary separating a tedious evening from a preposterous one.
It was back in 2001, and I had been sent to review the play Charlie Victor Romeo, at the Wadsworth, the creative brainchild of Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels and Irving Gregory of the Collective: Unconscious Theatre company.
Now the overall synopsis of the play did not strike me as a promising one.
Charlie Victor Romeo is the designation in the aviation phonetic alphabet for “cockpit voice recorder,” and the play was drawn, all but verbatim, from the black box transcripts of six real life aviation crashes; Including that of Japan Air Lines 123 in August of ’85 which still ranks as the deadliest crash of a single aircraft in aviation history.
Now I knew I wouldn’t leave the theatre humming any tunes, and I suspected I was facing a couple of tedious and/or preposterous hours ahead of me.
I was wrong.
The Collective: Unconscious with isolation lighting and a brilliant sound score that captured the unique qualities of in-flight ambiance perfectly filled the stage with all the tragedy, folly, desperation, suspense and heroism such events possess.
It was a great evening of theatre.
The play went on to great success and more. Much, much more.
The play was taped by the Pentagon, which used it in their pilot training course and was instrumental in the development of the USFA’s “Crew Resource Management” curriculum.
To put it bluntly, the play has likely saved untold lives.
It was one of the best plays I saw that year, or any year since.
Now, fast forward to the present day, where I am put in the position of viewing Charlie Victor Romeo the film! In 3D no less!
And what do you know – I’m expecting either a preposterous evening or a tedious one.
See, we never learn.
Okay, can you blame me? It was essentially a film version of the stage show, a genre that since Stop the World I Wanna Get Off hasn’t racked up a particularly impressive success rate.
Now the great thing about theatre, and I mean the really great thing, is the triumviratial (did I just make up a word?) enclosure of the event.
You have three basic elements of the theatre that must be in sync for it to function as theatre is meant to.
1) The actor’s commitment to the material
2) The actor’s commitment to the other actors
3) The audience’s commitment to the first too.
This is brought about by engaging the audience’s imagination in an active partnership with the
theatrical experience. It’s what allows battles to be fought, gods to appear and Peter Pan to fly.
Film does not make that demand on its patrons.
The movie-goer doesn’t need to imagine a vast intergalactic battle between two alien races, because films have the inflated budgets and technical hocus-pocus to put that on the silvery screen.
So, I confess, I did not have high hopes.
Plus the production is bare bones.
The set design of the cockpit was vaguely reminiscent of the one from Plan Nine From Outer Space.
The film, directed by Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels and Karlyn Michelson, features Berger, Daniels and Irving Gregory and recreates the final moments of six doomed aircrafts. The creative trio takes on multiple roles in varying segments supported by Noel Dinneen, Nora Woolley, Sam Zuckerman and Debbie Troche.
Before each segment the screen fills with the relevant flight maps and design charts to each incident. At the end of each segment the screen reveals the outcome of each occurrence as well as the number of casualties.
Though you shouldn’t be, you’d probably be startled by how insignificant the causes were that brought about these tragedies:
An incorrectly set altimeter
Masking tape overlooked by a maintenance team
Almost immediately I became oblivious to the production’s short comings.
Part of the credit for this goes to the cast which captures to perfection the last moments of each cockpit.
But there is, of course, more to it than that.
Now I loathe the trend towards “Reality TV.”
I could care less about Tori Spelling’s martial woes or anyone named Vanderpump and whatever they think they “rule.” What I most detest about this fad (and please Great Soul of the Universe, let it be a fad!) is its propensity towards making really stupid people famous.
In a way, Charlie Victor Romeo is “Reality TV” taken to the highest level.
It presents men and women in the most unfathomable situation possible, at least for most of us.
It allows us to witness human beings reacting in situations where the inevitability and terror of the outcome strips away the unessential and artificial.
Strangely, after viewing both play and film, I found myself humbled by the courage, determination and, yes, folly of my fellow human beings.
This is the reality of life and death that one is viewing.
Which makes it well worth the watching.
Of course I’d be glued to my TV if they ever managed to herd Kim and the rest of that clan onto an airliner that was plummeting into the Pacific Ocean.
Charlie Victor Romeo available for streaming online. Click HERE for additional information.