Fright Path

On a stark set dressed only with a nondescript console and a couple of chairs, three actors read verbatim transcripts from cockpit voice recorders of six real-life airline accidents. The drama of Charlie Victor Romeo comes from two places: from what's happening in this ersatz cockpit, and from our own fears about this sort of horror happening to us.The show, which last year received Drama Desk Awards for Sound Design and Most Unique Theatrical Experience, is named for the pilot's acronym for "cockpit voice recorder." But Charlie Victor Romeo is less about aviation disasters than it is about the ways in which life can go wrong.

"We're not concentrating on the spectacle of airplane crashes," insists Bob Berger, one of the show's five producer/directors. "The real story is about how humans react under stress. And about man versus an out-of-control machine, and about how sometimes man wins."

The stories told are of five actual crashes and one close call. Among them is the 1996 AeroPeru flight that took off without a working airspeed indicator and the 1989 Sioux City flight in which the rear engine exploded, severing the plane's hydraulic controls. Each act ends with the sound of grinding metal and a body count.

"Emergencies like this have become television spectacles in America," says Berger, a former cameraman for CNN. "We've learned to overlook the human element in this sort of tragedy. In our show, the human element is right in front of you, and you only see the fear of the people who are trying to save lives."

If nothing else, seeing Charlie Victor Romeo will change your view of flight attendants. "I used to think of the flight crew as the people who serve you your drinks, people who get you where you're going," Berger says. "After working on this show, I think of them as people who can save my life."

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela