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Review: 'One November Yankee' flies into tragedy

November 20, 2012|By Philip Brandes
  • In "One November Yankee," Loretta Swit and Harry Hamlin play three brother-sister pairs connected by a plane crash.
In "One November Yankee," Loretta Swit and Harry Hamlin play… (Robert Arbogast )

Taking its name from the tail number of a crashed airplane, “One November Yankee” at the NoHo Arts Center is about a disaster rather than being a disaster, which is always the better side of the equation for a new play to be on.

Still, there’s room for improvement in playwright-director Joshua Ravetch’s meditation on the aftermath of tragedy told through three interwoven stories about conflicted brothers and sisters played by screen and stage veterans Harry Hamlin and Loretta Swit.

The drama’s maiden flight benefits considerably from the seasoned polish these performers bring to their cleanly differentiated multiple roles: a pair of New England Jewish intellectuals who disappeared during their ill-fated flight to a Florida wedding, the hikers whose discovery of the wrecked plane five years later evokes their own long-buried trauma and, in the framing tale, a hip New York artist pushing boundaries with his latest work, an imagined representation of the crash site that has his more traditional-minded sister scratching her head in puzzlement.

Dana Moran Williams’ excellent set piece — an upturned Piper J-3 Cub in signature banana yellow — neatly serves to unify the “real” and “artistic” worlds of the play.

The loosely linked narrative structure allows wide-ranging exploration of the relationship between those worlds and the way seemingly inconsequential acts can change lives. The focus on sibling relationships is a welcome change of pace from romantic couples, and Ravetch’s intricate use of recurring plot elements and imagery is often haunting and poetic.

That very cleverness can get in the way, however, especially when the cerebral, hyper-articulate dialogue strays far from any believable way people would speak to each other.

Ravetch seems to be overcompensating with extensive reliance on profanity, but really there are only two dramatic uses — as shorthand when characters have more to say than they’re saying (see Mamet, D.) or as filler when they don’t. Here, the play’s messages are spelled out in such obvious ways that there is little subtext to suggest, except perhaps to steer clear of trips to Florida.

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“One November Yankee,” the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Jan. 5. $30. (818) 508-7101 or www.thenohoartscenter.com. Running time: 2 hours.

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