Daria Polatin and Steven Guy in love/sad(Photo: Brian Thomas)
Daria Polatin and Steven Guy in love/sad
(Photo: Brian Thomas)
The world premiere production of love/sad by Studio 42 generates the unique form of electricity that comes when a new troupe finds a new audience with a new work that really connects. While there are flaws in the piece, the degree of polish with which its various artistic and technical facets are integrated is inspiring and often moving.

Written and directed by J. Bajir Cannon, the fable-like love/sad is the story of a young pilot in the 1920s, in the era when flying a plane across the English Channel could attract media attention for a planned trans-Atlantic flight. Whimsically, elliptically, and beautifully told with a cast of 13 in various roles, the show integrates daring movement techniques with open-hearted songs (the lyrics are by Cannon and the music is Kabir Green, who also serves as musical director).

The tale of the pilot, played by Steven Guy, unfolds in a series of scenes at his home as he reassures his anxious wife (Daria Polatin) before taking off, and then from a state of limbo referred to as "the moon" as he struggles to return to her after a crash. His story is told in parallel with that of a Girl (Sara Bremen) he meets on the moon, who fell in love with a Prince (Chad Goodridge) secluded by his mother, the Queen (Jessica Weinstein), from any suitor who cannot properly answer a riddle. In the manner of Turandot, the Queen visits a deadly sentence upon failed applicants.

If this outline sounds reminiscent of a children's tale, it is one that contains some of the adult wisdom and wistfulness of Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince. Comical moments interweave with poignant scenes; though the former are less frequent than one might wish, the Pilot and Girl wrap us in the magic of their adventure. They discuss love, longing, alienation, and desire as the large cast swirls about them, framing their remembered lives with eloquent gestures and drawing stage pictures with great inventiveness. At times, several long, wooden poles are used by actors to physically elevate others; this demands balance and focus that a gymnast would respect, as does the use of stilts in other scenes. Instead of appearing as a showy technique or contrivance, these touches contribute to the tone and impact of the piece, providing interesting metaphors for the mundane and the profound.

The song and movement elements of the piece blend extremely well, adding to the audience's involvement and sense of wonder at the proceedings. Throughout, I was reminded of the terrific techniques of another young company: The Flying Machine, which recently staged a piece at Soho Rep. What's interesting about Studio 42 is how organically this emerging aesthetic seems to have evolved within the company; there are no references in the program bios to study with luminaries such as the French movement master Jacques Lecoq, whose training has guided so many promising new talents. Regardless of its source, the refreshingly sophisticated approach is welcome and engaging.

An ensemble moment from love/sad(Photo: Brian Thomas)
An ensemble moment from love/sad
(Photo: Brian Thomas)
Note should be made of the terrific sound design of Timmy Jones, which complements the stage action and dialogue so unobtrusively that it would be easy to take for granted. The cohesiveness of the troupe's movements, creating images onstage in living tableaux, works with the aural elements and with Ben Spatz's lighting design to bring a cumulative force to the proceedings. While there is an awkward aspect to the integration of the two storylines and some of the production values seem overly ambitious, this staged fable rewards the open-minded and patient theatergoer.

Several other shows have taken a fable-like approach to storytelling recently, with varied success, but Studio 42 does more with its resources than virtually all of them. Though the script of love/sad veers into platitudes at times, it offers memorable lines often enough to keep us engaged and stimulated -- e.g., "We only slow down when our hearts are broken." Most fascinating is the range of audience reaction to the show; as was evident afterward, it can connect with a variety of moods and speak to a variety of interests. If one is willing to follow these intrepid young theater artists to the "moon," one will attend a fable with a degree of energy and invention that can only be called fabulous.