But when a theatrical production goes, that's it. Oh, the play or musical may have been taped by Lincoln Center's Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, but that means you'll watch what the cameras caught and won't be able to let your eyes go to the specific point on stage that you most want to see. The show may someday get a wonderful revival; it sure happened to that perennial flop, Morning's at Seven in 1980. But ask the old timers which revivals they've seen that measure up to the originals and you won't hear too many cited. Even if a revival is excellent, it's still not the same thing as the first production or any previous revival. When they're gone, they're gone.
For the last few weeks, I've heard people talk about Garth Wingfield's Flight, the play that the Melting Pot Theatre Company is currently presenting at the Lucille Lortel. And what have I heard them say? "Well, I liked it!" Some of them have delivered this line with a harrumph in their voices, as if to say, "I liked it and I don't give a damn who knows it, or if anyone thinks I'm an idiot for liking it." Others have said "Well, I liked it!" with an apologetic shrug of their shoulders, as if to imply, "Hey, what do I know? I enjoyed it but I guess I must be wrong."
What these folks are doing is reacting to the New York Times review of the show, one of the relatively few negative notices that Flight received. Sad to say, I'm not surprised at this phenomenon. Since I began following theater almost 45 years ago, I've seen it happen again and again: People read a bad review in the Times and not only do they assume that it must be accurate, they also automatically assume that all the other reviews were equally bad. Believe me, I've questioned people on this. Whenever someone says "I hear the reviews were bad," I always ask what reviews they mean. About nine times out of ten, they reply, "Well, the Times was bad" -- as if to say, "Case closed."
Please understand that none of this is meant as a slam against Charles Isherwood, who reviewed Flight for the Times. It may just be the type of play he doesn't like -- episodic, with flashbacks here and there. Who knows? I'm not criticizing Isherwood's opinion; I am simply saying it wasn't mine, or my girlfriend's, or anyone's I know.
Flight tells the story of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, a man who hated his celebrity until he needed it; then it was, "Don't you know who I am?" Wingfield has effectively dramatized the fact that those who live by the sword of fame get wounded by it, too. Also, I'm attracted to plays that offer me even a smidgen of theatrical history, however tangential. Flight told me that there was a time in the '20s when Lindbergh, after his sensational trans-Atlantic flight, was thought to have been killed in a crash. When that turned out not to be true, the news was deemed so important that a Broadway performance of Show Boat was interrupted so the crowd could be told. The theatergoers' reaction, and Lindbergh's dry observation about it, are just two reasons why you should go see Flight before it comes in for its final landing on Sunday.
But there are far more important reasons. Even if Flight is revived some day, you almost certainly won't see it with Gregg Edelman, Kerry O'Malley, and Brian d'Arcy James. This production is fascinating, for how many performers can move from musical to straight plays with ease as these three do? Mary Martin had many a Broadway success in musicals but none in non-musicals. Ethel Merman never even tried to do a straight play. And when Gwen Verdon did a play, the show turned out to have more words in its title (Children! Children!) than official performances.
But here's Edelman, who's done such good work in comic musical roles (City of Angels) and dramatic ones, too (1776), as a wonderfully laconic, modest, but troubled Charles Lindbergh. Here's O'Malley, previously a Baker's Wife, playing the devastated wife of an aviator. And d'Arcy James is now a newspaperman, a variation on Sidney Falco(ne), the wicked publicist he played in Sweet Smell of Success. (I hope you caught that show. No? Pity. When it's gone, it's gone!)
In one scene, Nathan panics because he thinks he and Richard are going to get caught, but his partner in crime reassures him that they won't. The next day, Nathan has come to believe that there is no danger -- at which point Richard shows up with a panic equivalent to Nathan's of the previous day. That's what happens in real life: People feel the same things but not necessarily at the same time. (By the way, Dolginoff comes up with a fascinating theory as to why events played out as they did; you may not be convinced by it, but you will be intrigued.)
Dolginoff's songs are genuinely intoxicating, and they're well sung and acted by Matt Bauer as Leopold and Doug Kreeger as Loeb. (Dolginoff himself will take over for Bauer as of June 27). The show is tautly directly by Michael Rupert. I wish you could have seen the equally impressive previous productions in which Christopher Totten played Nathan and Matthew Morris portrayed Loeb, under Martin Charnin's direction; one of them played at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in 2003, the other was staged as a benefit for the York last year. But when they're gone, they're gone.
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]
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