Flare Path is a gem – Audrey Linden

Intense Romantic War-Romance “Flare Path”

World War 2 Drama
Rating: 5 Stars
Illuminating “Flare Path”

There are few productions in which I would not change one element, and Terence Rattigan’s “Flare Path” at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills is one of them. This well-wrought, finely scripted, play under the brilliant direction of Bruce Gray is a gem. It is a period piece, which takes place in England in 1939 at The Flacon Hotel. Though it was written during the war in 1941, and Rattigan served in that war, it is a period piece that transcends the perilous time it was written in and also rises above the subject matter of “flare paths” of light. These paths of light served to illuminate the take-off of the RAF planes during the black outs in England, but, as the play progresses, the light serves to illuminate the characters’ inner conflicts, desires, and ultimately show what is really important. The “flare-path” serves as a beautiful metaphor. I love it when a play satisfies on so many levels as Ratigan’s does.

I could not single out any one performer from the ensemble of ten actors. Each did such an excellent job in their portrayal in this war-time drama about relationships. Each was an important puzzle piece that added to the whole. And Gray’s direction held the pieces together in a taut manner with a fine balance of humor, intensity, and intimacy.

Jeff G. Rack’s Hotel Falcon lobby set was a masterpiece in rich dark burgundy-brown and emerald green walls. It was so “veddy” British with the concierge desk, comfy furniture, rugs, an old time radio, and a fire place. There was a window seat with black-out curtains drawn that served as a focal point when the aircraft took off. Michele Young’s period costumes added authenticity as did the wonderful sound design by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski”. We could hear the sounds of the Wellington planes as they took off. The production values including the lighting by Ric Zimmerman were top notch.

The play focused on three couples as the wives have come to be with their RAF airmen husbands. We first meet Doris (Alison Blanchard), the Countess who is married to the much younger Polish Count, “Johnny Ducks” as she calls him. She might have an ulterior motive in wanting the war to continue. She fears her Johnny will leave her when the war is over. She “rules her Count with a rod of iron.” Johnny is well played by Polish actor, Karl Czerwonka. He brings an innocence to his role. We have Dusty (Caleb Slavens) whose somber wife, Maudie (Annalee Scott) has come to visit. Annalee’s quiet spoke volumes as did her penetrating looks. So much was said by her character in the silence. She was compelling. Patricia Warren (Christine Joelle), an actress, stunning in the bold red dress is there to be with her new husband, Lieutenant Teddy Graham (Christian Pedersen). Or is she? Teddy is a good sort, but she married him on the rebound after running away from the celebrated, handsome actor, playwright, Peter Kyle(Shawn Savage) with whom she had an affair. Now, Peter shows up to claim Pat. He is determined to leave with her. Will he?

There still is a fire between the two and Doris comments that “one would think you were passionately in love”. Pete pressures Pat to tell her young RAF husband she is leaving him. Pete had a revelation after Pat left and as he approaches forty, and his career is at a downturn, he convinces Pat he “needs” her. And, women need to be needed.

Mrs. Oakes, who runs the hotel, subtly played by Ann Ryerson, gave a lovely note of stalwartness and levity to the play. She served as an intermediary of sorts between the women. Swanson, (Antony Ferguson), the adjunct “wingless wonder” who oversees the RAF airmen and Percy (John Salandria), Mrs. Oakes young bartender, round out the cast. The accents are impeccable. They were spot on, so much so that at times, some of the dialogue was a little difficult to understand.

As the planes take off, guided by the “flare-path”, that light reveals some intense inner soul searching. It takes a plane crash to make each character reflect on what is important to them. The reflections take place as the women wait for their husbands to come back. Yes, Doris is afraid “Johnny Ducks” may leave her. He lost his wife and child in the war and had had nothing to live for but to shoot down Geris. Doris rescued him. Is she a foolish older woman? Maudie and Dusty had a nice home and she didn’t have to work. Dusty had a good job and supported them. Is she bitter? Golden Lieutenant Teddy as the flight commander, responsible for six lives on the Wellington seems self-assured. Is he? Does he need Pat? He doesn’t know Pat intends to rekindle the flame with Peter.

One mission can change lives, and it does. Dusty comes back and Maudie is so happy to see him. Teddy returns and as he and Pat are about to eat Mrs. Oakes bacon and eggs, he has a breakdown. He fears Pat will see he “lacks moral fiber” because this strong fighter hates flying. He is responsible for Dusty and five others and that responsibility terrifies him. Dusty says, “Don’t worry, skipper will get us home.” Teddy unraveled. Pedersen’s acting was remarkable to see. He is stripped bare and Pat can finally see who he really is. In breaking apart, perhaps things will come together.

There was a key scene in which Doris asked Peter to read her husband’s letter to her. “Johnny Ducks” wrote it in French, and it was to be read if he didn’t survive. The letter revealed as much to Pete as it did to Doris. It is a letter of true love and while the words offered comfort to Doris, they unsettled Pete, who is about to spill the beans to Teddy so he can have Pat. Will Pete?

Ultimately, Pat, Pete, and the others learn what is important to them. Perhaps passion between the two actors is fleeting. What is strength of character? Is Pat to remain with Teddy out of “duty” or to follow her heart? Is it a sign of weakness for a man to admit he is scared? Or is it a sign of courage? These questions are raised and the answers satisfied this audience member. “Flare Path” is quite a remarkable play. It is a “must-see” in my book. I was captivated.

At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
Nov 24, 2014