The Sweaty Impulse to Soar Above Death
By LAWRENCE VAN GELDER
Published: June 12, 2004
ver and over and over again, hope rises in the path of onrushing despair as cockpit crews, their faces often reddening and shiny with sweat, struggle to understand and control aircraft seized by hellish dysfunction or devilish circumstances.
It is not a playwright’s imagination that shapes the events of “Charlie Victor Romeo,” the intensely engrossing documentary drama of life-and-death enacted on the stage at P.S. 122, at 150 East Ninth Street in the East Village. All six episodes of this 90-minute intermissionless presentation are drawn from actual transcripts of conversations captured by cockpit flight recorders. All end in crashes that shock with their horrendous noise, hideous implications and utter finality.
As theater, “Charlie Victor Romeo,” directed by Irving Gregory, impresses with its convincing performances by an ensemble cast and the brilliant, unnerving sound design of Jamie Mereness. As philosophy, it is a powerful reminder of the fickleness of circumstance, the role of fate, the consequences of carelessness, professionalism under pressure and the transience of life.
Here are planes that go down because no one has noticed before takeoff that the exterior ports essential to the transmission of vital flight data to the cockpit have been taped over by a maintenance crew; or because a controller failed to notify the crew of geese on the runway, or because of metal fatigue, icing or failure to obtain a proper altimeter setting.
The events play out on a stage equipped with only a cockpit, the slope of an aircraft nose and a screen that introduces each episode by listing the flight number, the type of aircraft, the site of the crash, the date and the circumstances. Only at the end of each vignette, in the darkness and silence that follow the shattering noise, does the audience learn the toll.
Though this production is new, “Charlie Victor Romeo” is not. Created by Bob Berger, Patrick Daniels and Mr. Gregory of the experimental theater group Collective: Unconscious, based on the Lower East Side, it first opened in 1999 and won multiple awards after it was presented at the 2000 International Fringe Festival.
“Charlie Victor Romeo” is a powerful experience, but it is not for the faint of heart.