It's taken until the past decade or so for playwrights and scenarists to portray those under fire as at all familiar with four-, six-, and 12-letter words. The recent HBO miniseries Band of Brothers is an example of the phenomenon. And now John L. Kallas has also helped to make up for lost time with Flights of Angels. This WW-II drama, now on view at the Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck, is most notable for featuring four lively paratroopers who are observed playing an endless blackjack game while supposedly awaiting the signal to suit up for a jump across the Rhine. Three of these G.I. Joes are raucously scatological while the fourth is a shy private who conscientiously polishes his boots and keeps his mouth Listerine-clean.
Kallas's never-callous combatants, who share a slowly-revealed secret, are the same sort of well-meaning guys found in any 1944 Warner Brothers release. Only now, as they talk about their fighting careers and speculate on the activity of a corporal with whom they share quarters, they swear a blue streak. The corporal in question, whose story this really is, has impregnated a French girl. Lovely and honest, she's the daughter of a woman running an inn where black-market trading goes on. The earnest corporal (Don Draxler) wants very much to marry Gabrielle (Jackie Kamm), but there's a hitch to their getting hitched: In order to wed, any armed forces man must obtain written consent from his commanding officer, and the corporal's major won't supply that piece of paper. So he goes AWOL to lead Gabrielle around her hometown, Epernay, attempting to find someone who will marry them without benefit of the army's blessing. Eventually, and with a certain impromptu duplicity, the corporal locates a willing accomplice; then off he goes to the treacherous front. He's been so fearful about what he faces that he repeatedly conjures his very Greek father for imagined conversations about what he's doing with a life that could be ended abruptly.
Although Kallas keeps the corporal busy conferring with his cigar-chewing captain and with a hearty chaplain, as well as wooing Gabrielle, he can't disguise the narrative's lack of scope. The corporal runs in wide circles but he doesn't run very deep--this despite the long-winded bickering with his father, who has his own Great War stories to tell. The corporal may have a talent for sketching but he himself remains sketchy. Ironically, his card-playing buddies are more vital but until the moment when the secret of their situation is vouchsafed, their relevance to the plot is vague. By then, they've all but lost their ability to keep the action bubbling.
As the foulest of the bunch, Anthony Del Corvo and Gregory Sims give crackling performances. Don Draxler conveys the corporal's intensity admirably enough and Jackie Kamm is Natalie Portman-pretty as Gabrielle; much of her dialogue is in French, and she speaks well in two tongues. Among the others, Jack Reiling is properly sheepish as the abashed private and Bob Del Pazzo plays the volatile Epernay priest and the acquisitive Epernay mayor well. Tony Hoty does perhaps more than necessary to make the corporal's father ebullient. Ted Story directed the modest production (sets by Joe Egan, costumes by Curtis Hay, lighting by Jeff Nellis) with efficiency.