Seen Off Broadway: As a show, Wickets hits turbulence, but its design is flying high. It goes Boeing Boeing one better by theming not only its actresses as stewardesses, but the whole of the 3LD Art & Technology Center as an airplane—circa 1971—you’re issued a boarding pass ticket at the lobby gate, then ushered into your row by the cast, who are cracking little jokes all the while. (“You look like you could use a Life,” was one of the better ones I heard, as magazines were passed out.) I had a seat assignment in business class but chose to fly coach, to get a better view of the facsimile. Intentionally, it’s not a perfect copy; for one thing, the immersive set has grass rather than flooring, so that the performers can play impromptu croquet (from which the title, a reference to the hoops used in the game, is derived).
This Trick Saddle production, conceived and created by Clove Galilee and Jenny Rogers, adapted and designed by Rogers, and co-directed by the two of them, is a free-form rethinking of Maria Irene Fornes’ 1935-set Fefu and Her Friends, which was already pretty loose. To quote from the director’s note, issued by “Wicket Airlines”: “Fefu is a mystery play and it embraces all of life’s ambiguity, contradiction, and flux…A wicket can also be a surreal state, a mental puzzle, and possibly the sticky situation we find ourselves in, in this ‘post-feminist’ meltdown moment.” In other words, I could well understand why the “passenger” in front of me, squeezed into one of the tiny seats (here, verisimilitude was taken too far), became more engrossed in his magazine than the actual performance as the intermission-less evening wore on.
Me, I enjoyed the water and pretzels that were offered as snacks, appreciated the handtowels, and liked bits and pieces of the show, which is all bits and pieces, riffing on failing relationships, master and servant gamesmanship, and the tension lurking beneath the “service with a smile” philosophy. At one point, curtains divide the set, and different scenes play out in the bisected space. There are songs, a screening of Rogers’ excellent “in-flight movie,” the wind tunnel-set Perfect Surf, and, not least, Pygar, the angel from Barbarella, shows up.
All of this gives a talented ground crew of ample opportunity to engage us. Rogers designed the set and the videography of passing clouds and other environments outside the windows (James Daher, David Tirosh, and Jeff Morey are the video projection consultants), Burke Brown the lighting, which has some razzle-dazzle chasing rope lights built into the fuselage, Candace Knox the costumes, and Dean Parker the enveloping sound design—a storm sequence is likely to induce passing queasiness. While it falls short of a miracle on the Hudson, Wickets, which plays through Jan. 25, is a diverting feat of avant-garde aviation.
The photo tells you all you need to know about the design of Terre Haute, a nabokov production at 59E59 Theatres. The crepuscular, single-lightbulb illumination is appropriate for Edmund White’s headlines-ripped two-hander, in which a Gore Vidal-ish writer, James (Peter Eyre) interviews a Timothy McVeigh-ish terrorist, Harrison (Nick Westrate), who is on death row in an Indiana prison. (Vidal wrote controversial articles sympathetic to the Oklahoma City bomber’s anti-government stance, but the two never met.) Directed by George Perrin, the 80-minute piece probes the attraction-repulsion between the jaded, seen-it-all writer and the crude, lowborn mass killer, as the two try to figure out each other’s motives.
In the background is White’s own up-and-down relationship with Vidal, played wryly, and dryly, by Eyre, and a sexual subtheme less explicit but not unlike that of the 2006 film Infamous, better known as the other Truman Capote movie. (Inevitably, the play evokes that, too.) This small show has weighty matters on its mind, and sometimes trips up on the details—the interview format can’t quite contain it, and an Iraq reference seemed out of time. But as a cataloguing of horrors past, which are still very much felt in the present, it is effective, and the show is largely successful in putting you into the uncomfortable shoes of its protagonists.
Hannah Clark’s stark design cages Harrison in a screened-in cell, with burnt bits of paper strewn around the floor. These, we learn, are pages from the “books” of the lives that Harrison took, a potent reminder for both characters of the consequences of such ruinous actions, however nobly undertaken. (Step by step, the show details the bombing in chilling detail.) Matthew Eagland’s bare-bulb lighting complements the minimal, incisive set, and Heather Fenoughty supplied the quietly urgent score. Terre Haute plays through Feb. 15.