by Carole Di Tosti
Have you ever wondered what the flight attendants, pilot and co-pilot talk about as they host your flight? Wonder no more! The witty playwright and comedic actress Eliza Bent configures an interesting cast of authentic people behind the masks of robotic sky servers on an airliner that takes off from New York City and is scheduled to land at Chicago’s O’Hare. Does the flight make it? Well, now…you’ll have to see the production!
Bonnie’s Last Flight expertly directed by Annie Tippe in a fast-paced laugh riot is currently being presented at New York Theatre Workshop Next Door. Throughout, the production is a rollicking and immeasurably enjoyable ride through the skies on Smelta Airlines. The cruiser you fly on is replete with champagne if you are a First Class traveler, sparkling water, Motts tomato juice, treats (Lotus Biscoff), brownies (by Peggy Lawton) and the sheer vitality and exuberance of crew members and flight attendants who assist your needs. Most importantly, you get to know these lovely individuals and discover their humanity, flight stories and relationships past and present as you head to your destination, which you may or may not make. (No spoiler alert.)
The flying experience begins in such an entertaining way (with singing from the entire crew) that immediately, your fears are dispelled at take-off, one of the most dangerous segments of a flight. I wish every flight I took could be like the one that took off last night hosted by neophyte flight attendant Leeane (the immensely versatile Ceci Fernandez), and seasoned flight attendants Jan (Barbara Walsh) and Greig (the excellent Greig Sargeant) close friends who have flown together criss crossing the nation and the world more than a few times.
Barbara Walsh is superb as the budding writer and retiring flight attendant who shares her secrets and allows us into her fantastic world inspired by the real-life Mark Twain (Eliza Bent in wig and moustache is wonderful as Jan’s mentor Mark Twain whose Twain-sardonic quips inspire us and keep us laughing). Bent’s Twain emerges with vibrance and moves at will around the plane sharing anecdotes and wise-cracks and has to be told to “sit down” when there is turbulence. I find it a hysterical irony that Twain negotiates the world of consciousness between realms of the afterlife and life on a flight in the clouds. This is Bent’s genius with farce and the metaphysical. Bravo, Bent, for your maverick ingenuity in creating such a character.
As the protagonist Walsh’s Jan melds together shared story sketches (there’s one with Elizabeth Taylor) which are hysterical. There’s another with Ryan Seacrest (the adorable and funny Federico Rodriguez) who has a peanut allergy and goes into anaphylactic shock. The alarming situation turns riotous as the flight attendants scramble for a doctor (the funny Sam Breslin Wright) who tastes the delicious peanut brownie that sent Seacrest into paroxysms of breathing fits. Then the flight attendants launch a full scale search for Benadryl. The action and clever banter keep us rolling in the aisles.
Amidst the various incidents on the flight, friends Greig and Jan fight about her not telling him she is retiring. The romance that has been fomenting between Leeane and the Co-Pilot (Federico Rodriguez) blossoms, and a wedding proposal almost happens as a salient clip from When Harry Met Sally plays on the screens. Many of the memes related to flying pop up as hijinks. The Pilot (the hysterically drunk Sam Breslin Wright) has to be coached to wellness by his Co-Pilot whom he has named Jesus. And we learn the deepest of Jan’s secrets confront her when the Wi-Fi finally works and she is able to read her email and text messages.
This is farce and reality in an admixture that never loses focus or extends beyond the bounds of humorous rationality. In fact Jan’s life is realized with poignance and beauty and Walsh carries it off so seamlessly that we embrace her and the others for their humanity and the friendship we feel flying the friendly skies on Smelta Airlines.
The set is arranged as a cabin with a scrim behind which we see the cock-pit when the Pilot and Co-Pilot have their Jesus moments. Kudos goes to the magnificent artistic team for pulling off a great experience.
This is one you must not miss, especially if you fear flying. It runs with no intermission at NYTW Next Door (on Fourth St. between the Bowery and Third Ave).
Photos: Shun Takino