Reviewed by Eric Grode
Presented by Network 23 and Collective: Unconscious at Charas/El Bohio, 605 E. 9 St., NYC, Aug. 17-27.
The briefest of descriptions will tell most potential audience members everything they need to know before deciding whether to see "Charlie Victor Romeo": detailed re-enactments, drawn from "black box" recordings, of the minutes leading up to several fatal plane crashes.
Upon hearing this, you may well dismiss the evening as a ghoulish attempt to capitalize on the horrific deaths of others—and you wouldn't be altogether wrong. But for me at least, sheer theatrical wizardry turned what could have been a glorified snuff film into a gripping, surprisingly theatrical reminder of how fragile and destructible we ultimately are.
The play, which had a successful run at Collective Unconscious prior to the Fringe Festival, follows a simple format. A slide projection gives basic information of the scenario (date, flight number, number of passengers, thumbnail description of the problem). The re-enactment then begins in a set made up entirely of a plane's cockpit. Most sequences begin shortly before whatever crisis begins: In agonizing, minute-by-minute detail, the pilots' mid-flight ennui gives way to the waves of uncertainty, confidence, and finally panic that fill their final moments.
The entire cast of 10 gives dynamic, visceral performances; they turn the jargon-dense language into something all too understandable. But the real stars of the evening are sound designer Jamie Mereness and sound engineer Kevin Riley. Thanks to them, the theatre is transformed into a sky filled with malevolent winds, birds, engines, and the unmistakable, hideous sound of metal meeting earth.
The only caveat here is a serious one: Do you really want to watch people die, one group after the next? The unrelenting horror is at times almost impossible to bear, and I remain unconvinced that directors Bob Berger, Patrick Daniels, and Irving Gregory (who all appear in the play as well) have yet discovered the angle that would turn this into an edifying piece of theatre. But as a pure example of the power of live performers coupled with shocking material and superb technical support, "Charlie Victor Romeo" delivers a hard-to-forget evening.