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Charlie Victor Romeo

Time Out NY Review June 10-17, 2004

Exciting theater doesn’t always urge you to spring to your feet in joyful applause. The very best can leave you numbly pinned to your chair, silent, too weak to clap. Charlie Victor Romeo is just such a work. Bob Berger, Patrick Daniels and Irving Gregory’s chilling creation first appeared at the tiny Ludlow Street venue Collective: Unconscious in 1999 and quickly mushroomed into one of the all-time downtown cult hits. The concept is deceptively simple; the trio collected transcripts from black boxes (or cockpit voice recorders – hence the title) from six airplane crashes. They then set about re-creating, with merciless accuracy, the circumstances and dialogue of each flight’s final minutes from the crew’s point of view.

The inherent drama of such a project is apparent to anyone. Still, few audience members will be prepared for the irony-free sobriety and terrible immediacy of the material, completed by the heart tightening claustrophobia of Patrick Daniel’s cockpit set; the ghostly realism of Matthew Eggleston’s unblinking lighting; and, most of all, the enveloping sound design of Jamie Mereness. His dreadful symphony of ordinary aviation sounds creeps into the marrow of your bones. Moreover, the uniformly excellent cast performs with such verisimilitude; theatergoers may feel as if they’re sitting in an aisle seat of a very different kind.

The production transferred intact to P.S. 122, including the spooky projections detailing each airline, flight number, passenger count and, crucially, the technical fly-in-the-ointment that turns an excursion into a headline. It should be said that CVR packs less of a punch in the wide hall it now occupies. The Ludlow space measured about the length of a jumbo-jet cabin, with an aisle running down the center; one does not feel as trapped at P.S. 122. Still, no show in town can match its sheer intensity or hermetic perfection.

• By Robert Simonson