Chris Danowski's Desiring Flight from Orange Theatre Group -- Two More Performances!
courtesy of Orange Theatre Group
A lot of experimental theater is quite sociopolitical in its messages, be they overt or subtle. Chris Danowski, whose plays are mostly on the not-your-father's-Oldsmobile side, has indeed written plays like that, which are critical and thought-provoking, while still funny and entertaining (FrogWoman, for instance, which despite everything is the most linear of his works that I've seen).
But as far as I can tell, Danowski is more attuned to human microrelations -- to one-on-one conversations, subconscious mysteries, and the desperately urgent messages of poetry and romance that are never entirely understood no matter how many ways we try to express them. Sometimes it seems as though, as a writer, he doesn't even necessarily prefer that that's the case, just as, as an audience member, you might not, either. It simply is.
So if you're planning to catch Orange Theatre Group's production of Danowski's Desiring Flight (and you have just two more chances to do that this time around), you should be . . . I won't say "warned," but aware that discrete characters and a followable story are not the point of this piece of what is still absolutely theater. It might take until the next morning, at least, before you appreciate that to any degree, and that's okay.
Nor is that to say the show isn't comprehensible, intelligent, moving, silly, diverting, unpretentious, funny, sexy, etc. in the moment. It is. Four actors play a man and woman during and after a relationship (if you can say a relationship ever ends, na mean?). They soliloquize and play and argue. They split into aspects, they way your memories and dreams do (e.g., "I was watching myself, but I was myself. And then it was like you were my dad, but you were still you.")
They are beautifully spontaneous, making everything that "happens" seem both natural and inevitable. They charge around Bragg's Pie Factory with a frenzied, youthful physicality, thanks to director Matt Watkins, who's also on hand to videorecord moments, in closeup or at different angles, that are simulcast on screens above the playing area.
And the camera technique, by the way, isn't just for its own sake and also accomplishes entirely different things from what it did in Orange's PHX:fringe show, hair & fingernails. (Two of the coolest bits, for me, were a closeup of a phone screen that showed two people texting, one spelling and punctuating like a boss and the other texting like a normal person; and a couple of sequences in which the couple performed a kind of crazy rock-band interview from the edge of their mattress.)
Sometimes symbolism in art gets a bad rap, but we all use it every day, and you know why we use symbolism? Because it's real. Our brains need it to synthesize and learn stuff.
If (to use some examples from Desiring Flight) you keep finding little notes from your lover after he or she is gone and they seem to represent open wounds and missed opportunities (or vice versa -- that your undrownable sorrows seem like mail that never stops arriving), there's a really good reason for that. If a character stares into a lens like a vlogger and says he's going to spend the whole day pretending to love someone he can't see who isn't there, that's because that's the kind of shit we do to ourselves.
Artists sometimes try to give us a reality check and a comforting hug at the same time. It's like that math problem where you go half the remaining distance, over and over, and never get there. And you never will. It doesn't mean you aren't getting closer. Live theater, in which a group of our fellow humans gives up their bodies, brains, spirits, voices, and, yes, desires for a short time to help us know ourselves and one another more intimately, whether we consciously process it or not, is giving us a hand with the math.
Desiring Flight continues at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 11, and Saturday, May 12 (not through Sunday, as we originally published), at Bragg's Pie Factory, 1301 Grand Avenue. Orange wants you to pay what you can for admission, suggesting an amount between $5 and $15.
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