It takes considerable savoir faire, as well as nerve, to ask an audience to sit through an hour-plus work about a topic boring at best and infuriating in general. I mean, who wants to go to the airport anymore? Yet Killian Manning kept my attention and kept the laughs coming in her new performance piece for her company, Killian Manning/No Forwarding Address, which launched one of four upcoming performances on Thursday evening at Common Ground Theatre in Durham.
Manning's work, which is neither a dance nor a play, but a blend of movement scenes and choreographed skits in succession, takes us through many of the aspects of air travel – today and in more enjoyable times. There's an odd blend of nostalgia and repulsion that will hit the target for anyone who flew when the skies were friendly.
Early segments include "Barfing," with a disquisition on airline barf bags and their other possible uses, and "Crying Babies" – the performers cringe and crouch, curling into miserable balls with their arms wrapping their heads as the wailing goes on and on and on. One of the more interesting scenes involves baggage carousels. Using clever video projections by Joseph Amodei (whose work appears throughout, along with excellent set, sound and light design by Plum Bronzini and Joe Keilholz) and clever physical carouseling by the performers, it leads to a touching exposure of travelers' inner thoughts about other people's luggage, as if the bags were telling portraits of their owners.
J Evarts and Germain Choffart excelled in the "Baggage Unattended" scene, in which a tightly wound woman goes haywire over a bag left in the waiting area; her fear has unintended consequences. Evarts has several roles and displays a range of her considerable talent. She's a sexy stewardess (her short dress indicates this was in the era before flight attendants – the Coffee, Tea or Me? time frame), a TSA officer in training, and a bumbling airline spokesperson when a plane goes down, as well as the hyper-fearful wife.
Naturally, when we are back in the present, everyone must remove their shoes…and most of their clothes…to be body-scanned at security. There follows a funny bit about highly caffeinated travelers, and a hilarious send-up of the scramble for power outlets by the electronic device toting multitude. There's also a funny and rather charming bit with dancing and giant liquor bottles about good old days of flying under the influence.
The work closes with a pretty little dance set to a snatch of Mendelssohn and video of puffy white clouds, as if to remind the viewer of the magical aspect of flying. This coda struck me as misplaced, and perhaps unnecessary, although I think it might work as a prologue. Pretty dancing is not Now Boarding's strong suit – the quirkier movement sections are far stronger. None of it is stretched to its practical limit, however – neither physically, emotionally, nor structurally. The segments, although following a logical sequence, do not segue well, tending rather to fizzle to a close. Dancing on a concrete floor in a confined space is necessarily limited for the well-being of the dancers, but those constraints should not prevent intensity.
However, Now Boarding is far more enjoyable than its subject matter, eliciting the laughter of recognition all through, and its final light-hearted moment opens the mind to somber reflection on all we've lost through fear of flying.
The show is sold out for Friday and Saturday; Sunday matinee tickets are still available. See the sidebar for details.