Air Heart – Steel These Wings
A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS
Running at Baltimore Theatre Project from April 24th – May 4th is In-Flight Theater’s “Air Heart.” In-Flight theatre is the brainchild of local aerialist and educator Mara Neimanis who has brought her aerial and physical theatre style works to Baltimore since her residency at The Creative Alliance in 2004. “Air Heart” is a one woman show, written and performed by Neimanis and directed by her husband Bryce Butler. The piece was born out of the Creative Alliance’s artist residency program and Neimanis’s MFA thesis at Towson University.
Neimanis takes the audience through a portion of the life of “aviatrix” Amelia Earhart during her rise to fame, preparation for her transatlantic flight, the thrilling flight itself, and the mysterious disappearance of the iconic lady pilot and her plane.
Neimanis opens the theatre work with a sort of ritual in honor of air and flight. Feathers are dashed about to somber and ethereal music creating a sacred space for the evening’s events to transpire. Perhaps this prologue welcomes the essence of Amelia to the theatre. At center stage, a large steel plane shaped structure looms beautifully and ominously over the playing space. A rudimentary map of the world upstage foreshadows the travels Amelia and her celestial navigator Fred Noonan will take. The stage sparseness is simple and leaves room for the movement in the performance and hints to the expansiveness of the sky.
Neimanis’s portrayal of the two central voices, a storyteller / narrator role of sorts and Amelia herself, is at times difficult to differentiate, but the story and emotion come across clearly enough to understand the intended thematic arc.
The theme of this tragic Amelia story weaves reminiscently in and out of the relationships that Earhart developed while raising money, lecturing, promoting rights for women, and of course: flying.
Most of the dialog is that of Amelia herself, encompassing her internal as well as external struggles. We hear about her strong will and reckless abandonment; which is both peaceful and inspiring. We feel Earhart’s struggles as a female pilot in the oppressive 1930s. We understand the difficulties she faced in the press, with her husband, and in her fight for women’s rights. We love her when she writes to Eleanor Roosevelt and expresses a love, more tender than friendship, in a time when such hints were atrocities in the public eye. The title’s play on the word heart is fully supported by the performance and the story’s dialog.
Watching as Neimanis tells an abstracted and semi-non-linear story of Amelia’s trials and tribulations is heartbreaking.
The star of this show is Mara Neimanis’s sheer physicality. She lifts, moves, maneuvers, and emotes in such a way that you can’t help but watch her lines and sculpted beauty. It may appear that this one woman show has two on-stage characters: the actress, and the plane sculpture crafted by Tim Scofield and Laura Shults, but I don’t believe that to be true. Watching as Neimanis balances on and moves through her plane sculpture while instigating it to spin and land on a dime, there is no doubt this apparatus is an extension of her body. This kinship is an honorable nod to the pilot herself. Neimanis’s written dialog speaks of how early pilots needed to exist as an extension of the aircraft they command. It is obvious this relationship is true in both Air Heart and Earhart. This subtle duality is poetic.
The supportive sound design of the production, while at times overpowered the performer’s spoken dialog and was slightly musically repetitive, fit well, brought you right into the appropriate mood, and balanced Neimanis’s movement and style accordingly. The lighting design by artistic collaborators Kendra Richards and Alec Lawson was simple and effective. I wish I could see Mara’s face more, but with a 1 woman show, it’s not always a requirement.
The writing that creates the dialog of Amelia and her storyteller is clear enough to understand the story and history of the icon. It is also abstract and sporadic enough to leave you with a sense of humble wonder.
Bottom Line: This production is well executed and lovely to behold. If you’ve never experienced movement theatre or aerial theatre before, go see In-Flight’s “Air Heart.” If you have never seen these styles of performance work before, go see “Air Heart,” to see how it’s done.
Running at Baltimore Theatre Project until May 4th.
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