Brilliantly acted, (just a couple of second-night hiccups on Saturday) and beautifully directed by Teresa Sanderson, Pygmalion’s Flying by Sheila Cowley in the Rose Wagner’s Blackbox Theatre was a finalist at several festivals and has a lot going for it thematically (if people would stop bringing up the #MeToo movement about events that took place in Iowa or some similar place in 1945.)
The play does, interestingly, address the issues of a man with disabilities (the result of war injuries) being touched without permission and being unable to find a job after the war. And the whole play is premised on the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), created in 1942, attached to the U.S. Army Air Forces to fly military aircraft during World War II until the program ended Dec. 20, 1944, after WASPS had flown over 60 million miles. In order to free up male pilots for combat or similar duties, the women would test aircraft, train other pilots, and ferry aircraft about the country. They had no military standing; records sealed for 35 years (like most war records) made their effort unknown to historians; and it wasn’t until 1977 that these women were granted veteran status.
Nicole Finney plays (a bit haughtily, a nice touch) Susan McCallan, whose war hero husband, “Bob,” owns a flight line where airplanes can be parked and serviced. Bob hasn’t been seen since he flew off to war and is apparently in Berlin, though the whole town expects him home on Susie’s birthday in February. Bob’s retired WASP wife and her buddies from the service are trying to run the flight line while he is away, but few men will cotton to a woman working on his plane. The women miss flying, talk shop like any flyboy and have Bob’s Piper to take to the skies when they can afford the fuel.
Arriving on scene is Bob’s former gunner, Rory Fisher (the superb Calbert Beck), to whom Bob promised a job (along with everyone else on his crew). The injured Rory is the only one desperate enough to show up and request work — which is good because business hasn’t been. Rory has no mechanical skills and is clearly put out by having to train under a bunch of women, but Susan can tell he needs the job and hires him.
What Rory wants to know is, “Where’s Bob?” and it’s a question he just won’t give up on. He’s OK with taking calls from Mr. So-and-So, who will only talk to a male mechanic or place his baby in the hands of one, and who presses to know the location of Bob, why he’s not back home yet, and when will he be.
It’s truly fine stuff from here.
But as you may have noticed, we spent a long time getting to “here” and that was by leaving out the social lives and characters of Susan’s Dad, the Doc (perfectly played by Andrew Maizner), and two exquisitely portrayed female WASPS (Lori Rees and Carlie Young) who are essential to the play. Cowley has so stuffed her play filled with issues and ideas and soliloquies and repetition that even at just under two hours it feels a bit too long. This isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable – there’s plenty of humor stuffed in here, too; only that it can feel overlong at moments.
The authentic sound design by Mikal Troy Klee and perfect lighting by Rachael Harned added verisimilitude to the evening. DYNAMITE costumes by Andrea Davenport with hair and makeup by Jessica Rubin (I mean really top-notch) were some of the best ever (and this writer has been appreciating PYG’s productions since its days in the mansion on the hillside); Allen Smith’s set was convincing and workable.
A graduate of the University of Utah, Ann Poore is a freelance writer and editor who spent most of her career at The Salt Lake Tribune. She was the 2018 recipient of the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Artist Award in the Literary Arts.