Up by Bridge Carpenter at Syracuse Stage through March 15

Barbara Haas 03/10/09More articles
Bridget Carpenter’s play “Up,” now having its East coast premiere at Syracuse Stage, proves the proposition that one man's visionary is another man's nut case.

Carpenter based the character Walter (Todd Jefferson Moore) on a real person, Larry Walters, who achieved his life-time dream of ascending high into the sky in a contraption of his own devising. Three miles high, in fact -- seated in an ordinary lawn chair to which he had attached 40 very large, helium-filled balloons. He deflated the balloons with a B.B. gun and landed unharmed, if ignominiously, caught up in some electrical wires six feet from the ground.

Much like James Thurber's fantasizing protagonist in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Carpenter's Walter is an endearingly inept bumbler in his everyday life. His first job, at the age of 10, was picking up the dog-do left by his neighbor's pet. He's had pretty much the same opinion of all other possible modes of regular employment ever since. He continues to tinker happily away in his basement, hoping to devise something that not only works but that someone might actually want.

Walter's fantasy life is inhabited by another person Carpenter has incorporated into her play from real life: the amazing tight-rope walker, Philippe Petit (Christopher Duval), who performed the daring feat of walking from one of the World Trade Center towers to the other and back. In this production, capably directed by Penny Metropulos, the Philippe Petit we see is a caricature of a Frenchman as Walter would have imagined him, saying things like “Zee birrd does not carry zee wallet.” Crossing with his balance beam on a walkway high at the rear of the stage, Petit is one of Carpenter's inspired touches. There are scenes, aided by the translucent sky-high panels of Michael V. Sim's set, that give us a taste of the exhilaration Walter must have felt during his lawn-chair adventure.

There's nothing predictable about “Up.” Walter's 15-year-old son, Mikey (Graham Powell) meets up with a new girl at school, Maria ( Susannah Flood ), who is candid, loquacious, very much a teen-ager – and very pregnant. As Mikey listens in jaw-dropping surprise to her non-stop five minute introductory monologue, Maria tells the whole story of how she's living with aunt now that her alcoholic mother has kicked her out, and she also manages to get herself invited to dinner! Just as much of a surprise is the character of Maria's aunt (Suzanna Hay): a tough-talking, chain-smoking, dolled-up broad who bursts on the scene teaching Maria to line-dance. Aunt Chris indoctrinates Mikey into her phone sales scam, and when he proves a remarkably apt pupil, comments, “You give good phone, kiddo.”

The play is less successful as it develops into high-intensity domestic drama. When Walter's hard-working, patiently supportive wife ( Mhari Sandoval) is cut back on her hours as a mail carrier, he seriously needs a job, but can only lie about having one. Did she seriously expect him to be a responsible provider?

The emotional center of the play shifts to a rapidly matured Mikey, who enters into a tender relationship with Maria. It may be this reviewer's prejudices against teen-aged pregnancy, but while Carpenter asked us to focus on tender feelings and devotion, this reviewer was thinking school drop-out, unemployment, welfare dependency.

While “Up” has its ups and downs, it's easy to see why Artistic Director Tim Bond opted to bring this play and its director, his former associate at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, to us here in Syracuse.

CATEGORY: Performing Arts
TAGS: Oregon Shakespeare Festival,Up,Syracuse stage,Mhari Sandoval,Suzanna Hay,Graham Powell,Tim Bond,Todd Jefferson Moore,Bridget Carpenter
EDITION: The Eagle

Rating: 2.3/5 (7 votes cast)

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