Flying Spirit

On the eve of the 75th anniversary of his transatlantic flight, Historyonics Theatre examines Charles Lindbergh

Seventy-five years after his transatlantic solo flight, Charles Lindbergh continues to fascinate. In less than 34 hours, he assured himself a historic fame that guaranteed to endure beyond his death. The second defining event of his life, the kidnapping and murder of his infant son, was all the more heartbreaking because it was a result of his fame and, ironically, made him even more famous. Lindbergh defined the American character; he flew solo not only across the Atlantic but in life. The same traits of singularity of purpose and independence that elicited admiration in 1927 made him a pariah in the prewar years, when he horribly misjudged Hitler's objectives and spoke out in favor of isolationism.

In honor of the upcoming anniversary of the flight, Historyonics Theatre Company presents As the Eagle Flies: Charles Lindbergh. Like all of Historyonics' plays, the text is taken directly from source material. In this case, writer Larry Roberson has elegantly woven together biographies and memoirs of both Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Using the flight as a dramatic framework, Roberson cuts between the events of those two days in 1927 and the years afterwards. As the young pilot, seated in the cramped quarters of the Spirit of St. Louis, Jared Joplin relates the details of the perilous journey, bringing both its dangers and joys to life. As the post-1927 Lindbergh, Jared's father, Joneal Joplin, expertly guides us through the rest of the story: his courtship and marriage to Anne Morrow (Jenn Loui); the unbelievable anguish of the kidnapping; the self-imposed exile to Europe; and Lindbergh's misguided analysis of the European situation and his subsequent support of the war effort, if not the war itself.

Roberson turns the source material into a graceful, poetic and dramatic play that expands the boundaries of Historyonics' trademark style. Nicely directed by Lee Patton Chiles, the script parallels the events of the flight with the rest of Lindbergh's life. The seemingly endless night spent flying over the ocean serves as counterpoint to the horrible waiting period after the kidnapping of Charles Jr., when his anxious parents hoped against hope that he was still alive.

Both Joplins are great. The takeoff sequence, as the Spirit struggles to gain altitude on departure from Roosevelt Field, is a fine piece of theater, a perfect combination of actor's craft and audience's imagination. With just their voices, bodies and the simple airplane set (basically a chair and a stick), the Joplins make us feel the shaking airplane and bumpy runway, see the approaching treeline and sense the relief when the plane is airborne.

Like many mechanically minded, logical people, Lindbergh viewed human beings and history as clockwork mechanisms, a philosophy that contains the seeds of fascism. Joplin and Roberson use some of Lindbergh's more self-incriminating speeches to let us judge for ourselves but seem to suggest that that, at best, Lindbergh was naïve; the idea that Hitler could be mad simply didn't fit into his worldview.

Loui brings the same blend of strength and emotion she brought last year to her portrayal of Georgia O'Keeffe in Desert Rose, which also co-starred Joneal Joplin. The two make a great team; their awkward courtship is funny and charming, and their relationship deepens as tragedy and fame take their toll. Later, when the Lone Eagle proves to be a solo flier in his emotional life, Loui accurately expresses the sad resignation of a woman who knows there will always be a distance between herself and the man she loves.

The lovely voiced Sharen Camille acts as narrator and troubadour, singing tunes of the era that deftly comment on the action and mood. Musical director/accompanist Joe Dreyer's selections are chosen with his usual excellent care, including "Sonny Boy" and "Stardust," a perfect theme song for the era and the man.

 
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