DECISION HEIGHT: A PLEASANTLY PLEASANT ENDEAVOR
Reviewed by: Danny Blanda
A rip-roaring, soaring simile to the Vietnam Conflict-based play A Piece of My Heart, Decision Height catalogues the journey of six hopeful World War II pilots. What makes this play stand apart from films such as Biloxi Blues, or the Pearl Harbor of a movie, Pearl Harbor? All of these high-rising cadets are women. Gasp! In a time where men ruled the skies and everything in them, women were scoffed at for having dreams of wanting more than playing housewife. Decision Height photographs the internal and external struggles for a woman in the age when our nation’s pride was placed on a pedestal by the vast majority.
Written, directed, casted, and designed out of KCACTF’s charitable host, Hollins University, Decision Height’s “girls club” of a script was performed before a seemingly receptive audience. You could tell that the 2013 KCACTF Region IV winning playwright, Meredith Dayna Levy, had done her historical homework when she wrote this semi-autobiographical piece. Loosely based off her own life, Levy transported her experience at Hollins University to 1940s flight school in hopes to convey her personal story to the public with a historic twist.
A tremendously ambitious concept was what fueled this pleasantly-pleasant script. However, pleasant is it all it mustered. My heart-strings went un-plucked; my mind had no puzzle to solve; and no long-lost friend was called post-show. I did enjoy myself, but that was that. It’s not a bad thing. By no means was I bored or scoffing the playwright’s work, but I was left wanting more and a bit unsettled.
The most important factor to the script and story as a whole was the dynamic between the women and their journey before, during, and after their training. In an ensemble of “meh” there were three or four who commanded that stage. From the very first conflict between Susanne Young (Edi) and Emma Sperka (Norma Jean) the audience was captivated and fully invested in the pair. Russell Wilson (Virginia) spoke in a meek, sincere tone that forced the audience to listen to her exposed internal monologues. Unfortunately, the “acting strings” were clearly visible a little too often by others.
Director Ernest Zulia (who oddly spoke to the audience prior to the performance), appears to us as a pleasant man, but I questioned some of his choices with this play. The opening of the play lulled with excessive exposition and Zulia’s choices for transitions appeared to the audience as a clever distraction at best. What could have been a very successful segue from scene to scene was interpreted as a misguided half-realized awkward march that was consistently lengthy.
Lighting was an occasional issue, particularly because the spotlight system at times slowed down the momentum of the show. To play devil’s advocate, the spot told me where to focus my eyes, which helped clean up the scenes that housed an excessive amount of ensemble and muddled stage pictures.
The script did hold some weighted one-liners, but weren’t fully developed to be the show’s calling card. If you are in need of a night of theatre that gently pushes you beyond day-to-day conversation and are willing to look past clearly obvious foreshadowing, Decision Height’s can indulge you with an ambitious script and standout performers.