Chicago Theatre Review
A Haunting True Story of Compassion and Grace
United Flight 232 – The House Theatre Company of Chicago at the Chopin Theatre
Attending this 2016 Joseph Jefferson award-winning show for Best Production of a Play, I knew this show and its material had to be good. There must be something about the show that resonated with audiences and critics alike. Forget my fears about the 1989 DC-10 plane crash with 296 passengers on board. A freak anomaly of mechanical circumstances sends the plane on a collision course with Sioux City, Iowa. I knew the material would be emotional and scary.
I had no idea how transformative this play would be.
Vanessa Stalling’s adaptation and direction is economy of emotion and words at its best. The perfect match of words and visuals work side by side to bring you this intimate and ultimately uplifting work.
This true ensemble of actors is talent of the highest quality. All the performances resonated with truth, empathy and light. Each cast member who told the story of a person lost or a person, who survived, brought the best of themselves to the stage. They embodied the spirits of those they honor with this piece.
Brenda Barrie as the lead flight attendant for this story is stand out with her natural narrative style. She gets the ball rolling and brings the journey back to the audience in the final moments with warmth and grace.
Jessica Dean Turner’s prayerful and grateful story touched me deeply. Her absolute riveting narrative as a flight attendant helping a young woman through this experience is masterful.
As the young boy flying by himself and a crew member, Johnny Arena, breathes new life into these characters. He gives us an understanding of helplessness from different ages and perspectives.
Elana Elyce moves us from confident to questioning passengers with ease and empathy. The passenger in the back of the plane showed us we all have so many things in common. How traumatic experiences (to put it lightly) force us to think anew.
Joseph Sultani, Dan Lin, Abu Ansari, Alice De Cunha and Carlos Olmedo move through multiple seats and stories, bringing each one uniquely perfect to that moment in the story.
This entire company of actors and the accounts they captured left me breathless. You could only feel love and respect from this cast. I never felt once that they were walking through the story, but walking in it with the person they portrayed.
The design team deserves a warm hug for the simple and effective support it gave to the complex stories and relationships.
John Musial’s scenic design was inspired. Both confining and expansive at the same time, the use of the fabric and its part in telling the story is really sharp. Audience members will be both intrigued and cautious as they navigate their way into the space. The simple use of the very chairs we were sitting in linked us immediately to the stage and story.
The lighting (William C Kirkham), projections (Paul Deziel) music (Matthew Muniz), sound design (Steve Labedz), costumes (Delia Ridenour) and props (Eleanor Kahn) were not just supporting the physical space and what the audience saw, but worked seamlessly in concert to bring the audience so effectively into the action.
In full disclosure, I am not a great flyer, I was a bit nervous. But at the end of this overwhelming and ultimately oddly comforting experience I cried. Not for fear or sadness, but for life. The immersion of humans helping humans with unselfish spirits or the tributes of lives lost in a bewildering situation will transform you.
Any narrative about United Flight 232 that I may be able to write would never be able to do this show justice. It must be experienced. Go with an open heart and celebrate with these amazing actors and craftsmen who guide us through lives lost and found on that beautiful day of blue skies.
Reviewed by Lazlo Collins
United Flight 232 runs through October 21 at the Chopin Theatre. 1543 W. Division St. For tickets please visit www.thehousetheatre.com or call 773.769.3832
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.