THE BLACK BOX
nytheatre.com review by Aaron Leichter
The phrase "black box" can have several meanings: a theatre whose
configuration can be rearranged to suit the production, a type of
camera, or, most ominously, the flight recorder that relays information
on a plane crash. The Black Box, the title of the FringeNYC
offering from Theater SKAM, fits all of these meanings together nicely
in a jigsaw puzzle of a play at University Settlement. The first strand
follows the Wright Brothers as they realize the ageless dream of flight.
The second story shows the myth of Icarus, on the cusp of adulthood,
flying too close to the sun. Balanced between these well-known tales is
the little-known account of a young man who was killed by his fellow
August 15, 2002
This last, true story forms the evening’s backbone as the young man, Mason, discusses his lover, a photographer named Jane, and his fear of flying. But the play’s strength comes from the tone struck by shifting back and forth between the stories: the exuberance of the Wright Brothers, the yearning of Icarus, the panic of Mason. The fourth compass point is Jane, as she explains exactly how a camera captures an image. Like flight and love, there is an element of magic to photography: all three ideas are somehow lighter than air, and contain a mortal danger: "Man isn’t meant to fly; and it all comes crashing down," explains Mason.
Happily, playwright/director Amiel Gladstone and her company weave these stories together with a simplicity belied by the complex ideas. Actors switch from scene to scene with a casual shift of the shoulders and voice as the lighting redirects the audience’s focus. Only a few props are used—seven, in fact, not including three chairs. And Andrew Tugwell’s soundscape evokes entire worlds and atmospheres but never overwhelms the actors.
In short, The Black Box works well because it deals honesty with its audience and its characters. It’s a small show, tightly contained within its hour of playing time, but reaches for the sublime in those minutes. With the anniversary of the World Trade Center disaster impending, it’s impossible for this play not to resonate. As Orville and Wilbur Wright solve the problems of manned flight, the audience recovers the wonder that flying can inspire.