By: Sally Henry
To kick off KCACTF 2014, Decision Height, by new playwright Meredith Dayna Levy, boldly sought to tie timeless ideas into what may seem like an exhausted era, the 1940s. And they succeeded.
In this female, World War II version of Top Gun, the people of Hollins University successfully re-created an Air Force training facility, using the latest technology to accompany Levy’s broad spectrum of characters.
The set and lights, designed by John Sailer, took full advantage of projection screens. But I appreciated that instead of replacing sets with projections, as so many tend to do, they smoothly blended them with the constructed sets. The versatile usage of the walls encircling the pool in the center of the stage was wonderful as they were constantly rearranged to become benches all over the stage.
To transition the set changes, ensemble Air Force women would come out and move the set pieces, sometimes while singing, which worked very well. But these women would also do a little marching number while singing an Army cadence to fill the time during the leading six ladies’ costume changes, which were after what seemed like every other scene. Unfortunately, this old-fashioned ploy fooled no one.
The way the pool was used to symbolize the friendship of the main six women very effectively developed their characters as a sisterhood. Had it been consistent, the use of a splash sound effect for when they jumped into the pool would have been very effective, but as it was, the splash was confusingly sporadic, happening for only a few of the pool scenes.
The costumes and definitely the hair were very authentic. The hair styles seemed to have been matched very purposefully to each character, making the girls in matching uniforms distinctive.
For the most part, the leading six ladies carried the show beautifully. As Eddie Harkness (in Top Gun terms, this is the Maverick of the group), professional actress and Hollins graduate of 2009 Susanna Young boldly managed to use her whole body to fill the performance space. Her comedic timing also made her endearing to the audience, so much so that she needed only to give the appearance of speaking to get a laugh.
Aileen Buckland had everlasting energy as the designated little sister, Carol Henderson, but I found myself wanting much more character development for the other three ladies, Rosalie Harston, Virginia Hascall, and Alice Hawkins.
The highlight of the show was Hollins graduate of 2012, Emma Sperka, another professional actress, as she portrayed the devout Christian Southerner, Norma Jean Harris. Her Scarlet O’Hara accent was impeccably consistent throughout the show (though, when she got sassy, her accent became very low-class), helping to keep the audience immersed in the action rather than her voice. She amazingly embodied the physicalities of a ‘40s matron to a tee. The way she held her arms, posed, and even strutted around the stage all looked like they could have been snapshots in an old magazine.
Fortunately for Levy, a simple plot like women’s self-sufficiency and power is translatable across any time or place. And no matter how strong the characters seem, women turn into giggling, fun-loving, little girls when they are together for a long time, a concept which thankfully was fully embraced by this show. So hats off to this young playwright for creating a heart-felt, relatable piece.
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