'North' Is a Strikingly Staged Fantasia on the Lindberghs and Saint-Exupéry

Photo Source: Isaiah Tanenbaum

A strikingly staged three-character play about the celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh; his mousey wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh; and “Little Prince” author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “North” will leave you wanting more. In a fleeting 75 minutes, it serves up wisps of titillating exposition, excerpts of provoking conversations, and brief dramatic encounters among the fascinating individuals. While its impressionistic brevity lends a swift poetic style to the proceedings, the show feels like an intellectual tease, as it only hints at the engrossing facts of the historical events and profound ideological conflicts associated with its real-life characters. Unless you are well-versed in the details of Charles’ heroics, his anti-Semitism, his son’s kidnapping, the war and aviation experiences of the French author (here called St-Ex), and Anne’s family background and writing career, you will surely want to spend additional time with these intriguing historical figures.

Though adapted from these aviator-writers’ personal letters, books, speeches, and journals, “North” was conceived as fiction by Jennifer Schlueter, who also writes and directs, and Christina Ritter, who plays Anne. The most remarkable aspect of the production is its staging, which generally hugs the border between naturalistic actions and symbolic movement. (Karen Mozingo is credited as choreographer.) Exquisite use is made of Brad Steinmetz’s stark set: three simple swings hung from the ceiling, a sky-high ladder, and a writing desk on wheels. The multilayered themes of flight (as in both aviation and disappearance), human conflict (internally, one-to-one, and globally), and the practice and meaning of writing for individuals and society at large are brilliantly underlined by the actors’ body positions and the kinetics of their movements, alone and vis a vis one another. Eye-catching images created by the pulls and twists of the ropes mirror the emotions and relationships of the characters as they perch on the swings. A climb up the ladder turns frightening when one leg is stepped sideways out into empty space while St-Ex talks of flying or Anne of losing her baby.

As Charles and St-Ex, Kalafatic Poole and Christopher Marlowe Roche give powerfully persuasive and superbly contrasting renderings of the two men who exert strong oppositional pulls on Anne’s life. Caught up in her husband’s celebrity, both positively and negatively, and torn between her responsibilities as wife, assistant, and mother and her intense desire to write, Anne is psychologically tormented. Charles pressures her, St-Ex inspires her, and as a woman she feels the limitations imposed by the social norms of the pre-feminist World War II era.

The central character, Anne is the individual whose personal dilemmas drive the drama. Unfortunately, the otherwise mesmerizing production suffers from Ritter’s uptight, earnest portrayal. While “North” seems to want us to respect and sympathize with Anne as a smart, highly literate, sensitive, creative woman trapped by her circumstances, Ritter punctuates the end of virtually all of her statements with a big, toothy grin that grows increasingly annoying and brands Anne as more ditsy than thoughtful.

Presented by the For/Word Company at 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., NYC. Oct. 10–28. (212) 279-4200, www.ticketcentral.com, or www.59e59.org.

Critic’s Score: A-