By Kelly Rudolph, James Madison University
When my first reaction to a play’s staging is, “This is a show about circles,” I am hesitant about what is to come. I was pleasantly surprised, however, that once the audience managed to slog through the choppy pacing of the first scene of Meredith Dayna Levy’s Decision Height, what was left was a journey of unadulterated joy and raw emotion. Characters that in the hands of less-able women would have fallen into predictable stereotypes sprang to life and dragged me, occasionally kicking and screaming in glee or disagreement, along for the ride that was their seven months training at Avenger Field.
Actresses Susanna Young and Emma Sperka had so much vivacity in their respective roles as Edith “Eddie” Harkness and Norma Jean Harris that they overshadowed their counterparts at every turn. Their antagonism-to-allies story pulled focus from a major plot point , Virginia’s letters to her sweetheart, but I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who was upset with the development. Their dynamism led to a complimentary – and many times symbiotic – ensemble that left me wanting to give those W.A.S.P. women a collective hug after they survived or succumbed to their individual hardships. While these genuine moments were not consistently or equally on-point, I was able to forgive poorly paced split-scene dialogue and obvious moments of “I-have-a-cue-right-now” and immerse myself in what was going on in the world of these women.
Despite the aforementioned acting, my attention was lost time and again by the Flying Circle Projection Surface of Doom (yes, the circle that began my hesitance in the first place) that liked to fly in at emotionally-charged moments and project me straight out of the play.
In the case of Decision Height, any and all projection should have been deemed “a missed approach.” During moments of flight, the women were visibly passionate about flying, but their devotion was poorly supported by cockeyed, blurry, unconvincing plane projections and jittery sequences of flying through the clouds. The production was better serviced by the physicality of the actresses; I could feel water, snow, and flight just fine with a ladder and some well-thrown invisible snowballs. Projections can create moving moments in a play, but in this case they cheaply reiterated what the actresses were already doing onstage.
Confusing Circle #2 was the constant presence of the fountain communicated by a big ol’ blue circle in the middle of the stage. The painted circle onstage was an unnecessary hot spot drawing my focus even when action wasn’t taking place directly on top of it. Much like the unnecessary projections, I was able to catch on to the fountain’s significance without the need to be spoon fed. Audiences can be intuitive when given the chance, and this production missed its opportunity to put both the audience and its actors to the test.