… aviation pioneers …
Interestingly, diaries give an important slant on a character but they aren’t a last word!
A play about an encounter among three early aviators, Charles Lindbergh, whose first solo flight across the Atlantic electrified the world, his wife Ann Morrow Lindbergh, a pioneer aviator and talented writer, and French aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery is an intriguing idea, but NORTH, even though drawn from their writings, doesn’t characterize these historical, intensely charismatic figures consistently or believably.
In 1939, it happened in fact that Anne Lindbergh met St.-Ex, as we fast learn to call him, when he wrote a preface for her book about flight, Listen! The Wind. Though she never saw him again, her diaries reveal the encounter loomed large in her emotional life. This play, taking off from that incident, sets Anne at the apex of a love triangle with two men, Charles and St-Ex.
The loss of the Lindbergh’s first child in the famous kidnapping of 1932 caused the actual Anne as well as Charles huge and lasting grief but — this feisty woman went on to have five more children and become a successful author! One can’t recognize the woman who flew five continents, published 13 books, won major awards in literature and aviation in the skittish, timid Anne of North (Christina Ritter).
An undercurrent of petty complaining runs throughout: e.g., Anne has to write at a kitchen table, though this woman of privilege could have had any writing set-up she wanted. Anne’s arbitrary responses and motivations are a main flaw of this play. What on earth is she trying to do that she isn’t in fact doing? What does she want? What does St.-Ex (Christopher Marlowe Roche) have that Charles (Kalafatic Poole) doesn’t have? The diaries may read this way in part, but this doesn’t square with the real life persona or create a compelling character.
Anne seems rocked by that fact that her husband uses a black pencil in editing her writing: well, gee, what writer enjoys being edited? though they all benefit from it. There’s a sense that Charles, the forthright man of action, somehow doesn’t understand her as much as the poetic St.-Ex, but Charles takes an engaged and appreciative interest in her work, reads it carefully, and — wrapping her in his jacket on a chilly night — is considerate and tender. All St.-Ex has to offer is words words words and these aren’t particularly telling.
The Lindberghs’ reputation suffered on the eve of World War II when they appeared to all the world as German sympathizers and took a strong public stance of keeping the United States out of the war. At one point in the play, an independent-minded Anne stands up to Charles, opposing his identification as the Jews as one of the causes of the coming war, but in the subsequent scene when she writes an isolationist book arguing for U.S. non-intervention in the war, the play “excuses” her by indicating she’s under Charles’ thumb. Is she her own person or his creature? Which is it? Whichever the playwright finds convenient in using the play to create an apologia for Anne.
The highly creative staging is marked by an imaginative compression of ideas. The characters sit on swings suspended from above, swing on them twirl them toward one another and away, the motion of the swings echoing their fluctuating emotional states and relationships while at the same time providing a backdrop of height and space central to these aviators’ lives. In this context, it’s fascinating to consider the swing’s long history of conveying flirtation and beyond — to erotic elation, as for example in Fragonard’s famous 18th-century painting, The Swing.
In contrast, a tall, gravity rooted ladder provides another venue for the characters’ physical agility as a stand-in for their physical courage — and at the same time is the immobile reminder of the kidnapping in which the baby was carried off down a ladder. Congratulations on this fine design to Scenic Designer Brad Steinmetz, Lighting Designer Anjeanette Stokes and Choreographer Karen Mozingo.
North plays at 59E59 theater in mid-town Manhattan through October 28th.