Mixed Company Theater Takes Wing with Five Flights

Great Barrington Company Presents Adam Bock Play

By: - Oct 04, 2009

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Mixed Company presents Five Flights by Adam Bock, Directed by Emma Dweck; Lighting Design, Maia Robbins-Zust; Lighting Board Operator, Rudi Bach; Sound Design, Peter Wise; Aviary, Rachel Schapira; Banner, Karen Kisslinger; Produced by Joan Ackermann and Gillian Seidl. Ed: Hanuman Goleman, Adele: Jennifer Young, Tom: Enrico Spada, Olivia: Diane Prusha, Jane: Stephanie Hedges, Andre: Ryan Marchione.  Two hours with one intermission. October 1-24 at 37 Rosseter Street, Great Barrington. Information: 413.528.2320.
Our region has dozens of flourishing theater companies. This review is part of our ongoing efforts to bring the best of them to the attention of our wide range of readers.

Tucked into a side street just outside of downtown Great Barrington is the Mixed Company Theater. Under the creative and watchful hand of Joan Ackermann it has been providing the Southern Berkshires with a reliable flow of lesser known and original theatrical works. For every familiar Bus Stop by William Inge they perform, they stage a dozen lesser known plays such as this.

And while Five Flights doesn't exactly soar, it doesn't crash and burn either. It's a pleasant flight that passes quickly.

The facility: Like so many small theater companies, Mixed Company improvises. Its performance space is basically a black box, except for a planked wood ceiling, with a small but workable sized stage. It is carved out of an industrial building that also contains a radio station, so the exits and entrances have to be made from three doors that are regularly used for other purposes. There is no fly, wing or backstage (crossover) space. There is an isolated tech booth, and about three dozen lighting instruments of fairly recent vintage. The old fashioned wooden auditorium seating was comfortable, arranged in stepped rows, adequately softened by cushions placed on top of the seats.

The play: Five Flights by Adam Bock was first done off Broadway about five years ago, is directed by Emma Dweck and performed by a competent cast of six actors. The cast included a member of Actor's Equity, Diane Prusha, who played the colorful Olivia, and five other actors, all of whom delivered very polished performances. For this production, the stage is basically bare, utilizing a couple of simple benches that are moved about, and a single hanging representation of an aviary, supported by an impressionist projection of birds in flight.

We first meet Ed (Hanuman Goleman) who serves as the narrator. He is one of several siblings and relatives deciding the fate of the deteriorating aviary built by their father to honor their mother. The play revolves around the trio's need to decide whether to restore the structure which is deteriorating, leave it be, or tear it down.

Olivia, wants to repurpose it as the Church of the Fifth Day - as in "and on the fifth day (God brought) forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven."

Olivia, it seems has had a vision sent by God  to restore it as a church honoring birds as the messengers of the almighty. Adele (Jennifer Young) is indecisive, while Jane (Stephanie Hedges) wants to turn the dirty and deteriorating structure down. Her religion is neatness and order.

Two other men, Tom (Enrico Spada) and Andre (Ryan Marchione) are, inexplicably, hockey players and Tom somehow equates hockey with Russian ballet. Tom is gay and attracted to Ed. Ed is in attracted to Tom but in denial. Trying to describe the inter-relationships is what is fascinating in this production, but it is also its downfall. They don't really make sense, they don't seem logical. Unless that is the point, and it may be.

Taken at face value, the play as written by Adam Bock is uneven, falling flat at moments, and soaring at others.  Written originally as a sort of five part ballet, this production only has minimal choreography undertaken by actors who are not really meant to dance. The movement sequences work, but just barely.

Speaking of movement, the play suffers from too much sitting around and talking. Much of the direction involves picking up a bench, moving it somewhere and then sitting down again. Or standing around holding a banner. When the characters were moving, the dialog always seemed livelier, but when they stood or sat around otherwise motionless, the life drained out of the proceedings.

I suspect the play itself is what happens when playwrights believe their professors when they tell them to "write about what interests you, and the play will flow from there..." Thousands of lawyers, hobbyists, actors do exactly that. It is absolutely the wrong advice.

So while Five Flights has many redeeming moments, and one or two marvelous ones, this play is sometimes about as interesting as sitting in your neighbor's living room and letting them prattle on endlessly about the inconsequential. Marshmallow Fluff, Kool Whip, empty calories that don't even taste good.

Perhaps the point of this play is to point out the emptiness of contemporary life.  Look around and see cellphones glued to everyone ears - and the many who watch life on tv instead of actually living it.  If that is the point of this play, then it has succeeded beyond the writer's wildest dreams. How else do you explain married people who don't seem to care for each other. Or brothers and sisters who are unable to work together or even communicate. Then there are the two gay men, one of whom is afraid to trust a new relationship and the other too weak to pursue it. There is even the hint of lesbian love but it is fleeting and never developed or explained. A kiss out of the blue, a couple of words, and then....gone.

In Death of a Salesman, you come to care deeply about Willy Loman, his wife and children. In Long Days Journey into Night, you can't help but suffer along with the Tyrones, their misery is yours. In Five Flights, you may ask yourself, who gives a hoot. But don't take this as meaning it is a bad play. Far from it.

As suggested earlier, perhaps the playwright's intention is to spotlight our self centered shallowness and mediocrity. To warn us away from the precipice of a self-will-run-riot approach to living. That's speculation, each person will have to draw their own conclusions. If Adam Bock's purpose is to wake us from our self deceptive sleepwalking though life then Five Flights has a point.

It shows how we often talk past each other and hear so little. It spotlights the lack of  warmth between humans, our reluctance to compromise, our failure to understand we all share a common destiny.

The play has several memorable theatrical moments. The first act has a dazzling vision scene in which Olivia is inspired to start a church, and there's a lovely segment telling of how the father came to become obsessed with a wren he believed contained the soul of his wife.

In the second act two scenes stick with you. The first is a bake sale in which Enrico Spada as Tom courts Ed (Hanuman Goleman) egged on by his straight teammate Andre (Ryan Marchione.) The series of stolen, passionate kisses are hilarious to watch, but their rapid dousing at the approach of anyone in his family is sad.

There is also the scene in which four of the characters end up facing the audience as they themselves sit in a theatre, watching a ballet unfold. As the whole first act of Swan Lake passes by in minutes, their individual  reactions are fun to watch. A wonderful scene, but in need of some real choreography and smoother timing. Fully realized, it would not only be a knockout moment of theatre, it could also make a top You Tube video and earn millions of adoring clicks.

As Joan Ackermann notes in the program: "This is a curious play that doesn't travel in a straight line. It circles around much the way the mind works as it tries to process and make sense of things. This play takes courage to tackle."

Exactly. If you like plays with neat arcs from exposition to conclusion, this may not be the best choice for you. But if you think about the human condition and its complexities, here's a play that will leave you thinking. It's not in a neat, tidy package with a bow. It's a bit messy. It needs pruning. And it deserves to be seen.

Mixed Company is located at  37 Rosseter Street, Great Barrington, MA. 413-528-2320. Believe it or not they don't have a website. They've been around for 30+ years.