Eagle Squadron GO!
nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
August 10, 2008
"The fate of Western Civilization rests on an American cowboy and a love-struck girl!" declares one character leading up to the climax of Garet Scott's new comedy, Eagle Squadron GO! And that sums up the ride that Scott and TightShip Productions take you on in their FringeNYC production. Eagle Squadron GO! whisks you away on a rollicking adventure through World War II London and France, making stops in secret French resistance camps, seedy nightclubs, and tearing through the skies in thrilling dogfights (with tongue firmly inserted in cheek throughout most of the show): all this and more created by only a few chairs and card tables, some superb costuming, and the talents of nine actors. An ambitious undertaking to be sure, spanning several settings and more than 65 characters, but it does not disappoint.
Scott's play is loosely based on the exploits of Eagle Squadron, a real-life fighter squadron in WWII, made up of Americans who chose to defend England from German invasion in the years before America was yanked from its neutrality by Pearl Harbor. But, as the company itself describes, the adventures are rooted more in the hysterical than the historical.
From the moment you walk into the theatre, you are immersed in the time period. Pre-show and intermission music is pure 1940s and a projector screen juxtaposes images of British propaganda posters and bomb-ravaged London (even throwing in a picture of Churchill for good measure) and later images of occupied France.
The story follows an American flight crew—Joe, Jac, and Peepers—through their missions and downtime in London. Joe, an earnest, straightforward pilot, finds love with Gwen, an English nurse. Jac, his fast-talking, brash co-pilot, is set up with Gwen's good friend—opinionated, aspiring actress, Primrose Brown—but instantly falls for the singer in the local nightclub, the mysterious French beauty, Philippine. However, when the group is betrayed by a spy within the British military and their plane is shot down over occupied France, Jac, split from the rest of the group, is forced to work with the French resistance, led by French femme fatale Le Chat (the Cat!), to make his way back to London safely. But along the way, he encounters Colonel Hoerring, the German officer responsible for the spy in their midst, and comes face-to-face with the manipulative double-agent who betrayed them.
Scott's script moves at a quick pace, never lagging, and is full of snappy wit and truly hilarious puns and one-liners. Paired with Kevin Thomsen's adept direction, seamlessly moving the actors through more quick character changes than one can fathom, they set-up a stylistic world reminiscent of pieces of '40s/'50s WWII classics and more recent homages to those films (from the sweeping, over-the-top romance movies like Casablanca to the winking, serial-cartoon style and shadowy espionage of Indiana Jones and The Good German).
Scott's characters are distinct, despite the sheer numbers of them. Their nationalities are full-out stereotypes; but because he pushes each stereotype to the limit, this never becomes a problem (each even gets a musical number-complete with waffle-loving Belgians and self-loving French).
The script also handles its more serious moments surprisingly well. The stock characters Scott creates actually have enough heart so that in moments of love, death, or betrayal you are fully invested in their feelings. His only problem comes when sometimes he follows a serious moment with a joke a bit too quickly, somewhat robbing the audience of their genuine connection to the characters.
The extremely talented ensemble of actors snap from distinct character to distinct character so effortlessly that they succeed in making you forget that they were just playing someone else (even when they are playing one of the main characters). Scott Sowers gives a touching performance as regular-guy-in-love Joe, then transitions into the deliciously evil German, Colonel Hoerring. Sarah Ecton-Luttrell and Jamie Heinlein balance each other perfectly as the driven, independent actress Primrose—who selflessly gives up her dreams to the war effort by becoming a nurse—and the sweet, devoted Gwen, respectively. Then both execute a complete 180, deftly transforming into a sado-masochistic German officer (Ecton-Luttrell) and the strong, but equally love-struck, Le Chat (Heinlein).
David R. Gordon's Jac channels (but never imitates) a bit of John Wayne and William Holden as the perfectly heroic American cowboy. Kate Kertez stuns as the charming-to-the-last Phillippine. Her sultry voice works brilliantly for her nightclub song numbers, (the music, composed by John Bauers, fits flawlessly with the period), and her meticulously detailed character (from her accent down to her tiniest movements) makes her seem as if she had jumped right out of 1940s France.
Completing the styled picture are June Gaeke's vivid and wholly appropriate costume design, Paul Goodrich's sound (which sets the mood so well that sometimes you wish for a bit more of it), Ceric McNish's dialect coaching (the actors' execution of the countless accents is spot-on), and Natalie Robin's lights, which skillfully create the atmosphere of a smoky, dimly-lit club.
Backed by so many solid efforts, Eagle Squadron GO! delivers a colorful picture of wartime Europe—one that is maybe more accurate than its creators give it credit for—and, if nothing else, a hell of a fun ride. For, as Primrose Brown states, war is perhaps the greatest drama of all.