A Red Orchid Theatre. By Marisa Wegrzyn. Directed by Shade Murray. With Natalie West, Mierka Girten, Kirsten Fitzgerald, Matt Farabee. Running time: 1hr 35mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
The same day that Marisa Wegrzyn’s bright comedy opened at A Red Orchid, someone in my Facebook feed happened to post a link about the long history of sexist use of flight attendants in airline imagery—in this case, an 1970s ad campaign by National Airlines that featured stewardesses smirking saucily at the reader under headlines like “I’m Cheryl. Fly me.”
Suffice it to say the modern-day flight attendants in Wegrzyn’s play, on layover in a crappy O’Hare hotel that doesn’t even get Bravo, will probably not be inviting any passengers to fly them. Beth (Natalie West) is a burned-out flying vet with back problems who’s considering taking a buyout at the end of the year, even though the buyout package gets worse every year. Sam (Mierka Girten), the fun-times gal, just wants to go out and get shitfaced in spite of, or perhaps because of, the fact that she’s worried about her teenage son being home alone for the first time.
The two reluctantly meet up with former coworker Angie (Kirsten Fitzgerald), who’s moved to the Chicago suburbs to take care of her mom after getting laid off from the airline two years earlier and is clearly desperate for socializing with peers. And then there’s the wild card: Jonathan (Matt Farabee), Beth’s sweet, teenaged “pot guy,” who shows up in a rented tux because it’s his prom night and ends up sticking around with these ladies twice his age because his date ditched him, and he, too, could use some attention.
If that setup seems, okay, a tad contrived, Wegrzyn’s apparent affection for these four flawed characters is anything but, and it’s shared by director Shade Murray and his cast. In their deeply felt quibbles about the semantic difference between quitting and stopping or the relative indignity of walking backward behind the beverage cart, West and Girten draw us into their everyday worries. Farabee, a young actor who’s become a favorite in pieces like Pavement Group’s punkplay and MilkMilkLemonade or Theater Wit’s Tigers Be Still, more than holds his own against three formidable actors with a long history.
But it’s Fitzgerald who gets the gift of Wegrzyn’s gripping monologue about the events of Angie’s last day on the job. Like all of Mud Blue Sky, it’s a testament to how simply being there can mean the world to someone else, whether or not we’re at the same point on our journeys.