BWW Review: RTW'S CENSORED ON FINAL APPROACH Flies High Alongside Marquette University and WWII WASPS
In the 1940's, women managed factories while welding to build warships and also sat in a bomber's cockpit, climbing into the air to aid America's war efforts. Produced by Renaissance Theaterworks (RTW), the World War II story titled Censored on Final Approach and written by a former Marquette University Director of Theater, the late Phylis Ravel, takes flight on stage in the Studio Theater to reveal how these women coped. RTW collaborated with current theater students and technicians to remember these women pilots who sacrificed their lives for the war. To do this, these courageous WASPS (Women Air Force Service Pilots), females ahead of their time, confronted their male competition and tradition to fight for their right to fly and live everything their feminine selves could be.
Based on true stories and lives of actual WWII WASPS, in this play, Catherine, Gerry, Liz and Mary, defy convention and under the command of another women flier, Jackie Cochran, these women were sent to Camp Davis, North Carolina. There, commanded to do rudimentary tasks for a time before being allowed to fly, they struggle to state to their commander, "Most men are here because they have to be--we are here because we want to be."
When the women were finally allowed to fly, they were given commissions to train ammunition specialists, deliver goods to far away places, or perform special missions those fly boys refused to do while piloting planes that were less than air-worthy because the "good" aircraft was sent to the war torn front. They tolerated officers who balked at women, any women, in the military, and possibly played "practical jokes," where sugar was placed in the gas tank, perhaps as sabotage, because this kills an engine in flight. Who would tolerate these supposed lapses in flight mechanics that may have contributed to over 1000 casualties? At the time, America's congress was unaware of this special women's flying program, and until recently, these women pilots were neither acknowledged as military, nor given military benefits or burials, particularly in Arlington Cemetery. A law recently passed in March, 2016, gave them these rights, almost a half-century later. Why this discrepancy?
While Ravel's play leaves some of these questions unanswered or tackles multiple subjects for a mere two hour production and probably attempts too much, the playwright wished to incorporate parts of these four flier's personal lives into the story. By actually researching and writing the WASP's stories, at least their lives can unfold, and in doing so, employ modern young women in the process. Women travel an uneasy course in today's theater, almost as these young women pilots did in the '40's. so up and coming Leda Hoffmann directed these debuting theater students playing these astonishing characters from the '40's the public rarely hears about.
Two experienced actors give a pair of fliers presence: Kat Wodtke plays Catherine, as one women who only wished to fly, cynical from the experience and desperate to understand the sacrifice made during the war.. As Gerry, Megan Kaminsky gives a bold performance as the pilot who tries to understand her place as a woman as interested in dresses and shoes as she is breaking gender barriers by flying. Their commander, Jackie, placed between a rock and a hard place, between male officers and generals, allows Greta Wohlrabe to give Jackie a determined edge, fighting for her cause while silently suffering for the women she loses along the way.. She understands, as many women today do, they must perform twice as well as any man, while looking every bit the feminine women they are, with the additional concern of being too emotional or too tough, difficult lines to manage when one is trying to cross traditional gender barriers.
The other fliers, Liz and Mary, arrive from Marquette University Theater, Jordan Feger and Madeleine Farley, and make professional debuts in their roles. Farley carves her naive Minnesota farm girl into a person who tugs on the audience's heart strings, and plays to three other Marquette students, Daniel Callahan (Lt. Ryder), Terry Lee Watkins (Wayne), Ben Braun (Artillery Officer), and A.J. Magoon, (Artillery Trainee) These young men take orders from a nuanced James Fletcher in the role of Major Stephenson, who fights for his men, and yet discovers the hope behind these women who comb their hair and apply lipstick before they leave their planes. A man who ultimately says to his female filers': "You shouldn't be here..the powder puff forces... go home.. married with a baby in your arms."
Marquette University Chair of Performing Arts Stephen Hudson-Mairet gives the stage a cockpit like ambiance, with a propeller placed in the backdrop where the wild blue yonder calls, white clouds and sky set against the standard military khaki. The wild blue sky a dream anticipated for contemporary women in and outside the armed forces. Costume Designer Debra Krajec and Sound Designer Victoria Deiorio hail from Marquette to produce a true collaboration between professional theater and the university, a great opportunity for Milwaukee to admire what these hometown institutions accomplish, often unnoticed as well.
A production both enraging, heartbreaking and dedicated to Ravel, a woman who revered the theater, Censored on Final Approach unleashes these World War II women, their histories, to impact today's world. How can one remain a woman and adhere to masculine standards the world still requires? Be sure to fly high with Renaissance and these young Marquette performers when they challenge the world seen from the past and present to craft a better future. Some year ahead when these significant inequalities will be completely censored, put to rest for a brighter future similar to that blue sky pictured on the theater backdrop, when the feminine spirit can truly soar.
Renaissance Theaterworks presents Phylis Ravel's Censored on Final Approach in collaboration with Marquette University Theater in the Studio Theater at the BroadwayTheatre Center through April 24. For information on their upcoming 2016-2017 season, or their fundraiser, the Salon Soiree, or to purchase tickets, please call: 414.291.7800 or www.r-t-w.com.