BWW Review: AIR MAIL / PAR AVION at Capital Fringe
Part of the adventure of any Fringe show is how best to utilize a space that was not necessarily built as a performance venue and there are plenty of approaches to creating an immersive experience for your audience. One of my personal favorites is live music. In Air Mail / Par Avion, the mood for this devised musical is immediately set as you enter the space to the sounds of a jam session. The five-person band clearly enjoys playing together and their fun is infectious.
Music director and composer, Chris Mayhew, gives a brief introduction that quite captures the essence of this piece, saying, "We know the story we're going to tell, but not how we get there". Basically, strap in and enjoy the journey. The show is formatted around a set list, with Sarah Marksteiner portraying Maggie, a recent college graduate backpacking through Europe who happens to have an amazing voice. The songs in the set list are curated to bookend several short scenes and the lyrics to each give us a hint of what stories may lie ahead.
Overall, the songs and scenes balance each other out, though there are several establishing scenes between the first and second music breaks, making the second song almost a surprise when it arrives. We see Maggie meet Henri (Michael Williamson), another American living in Belgium. Their initial encounters are painfully awkward, but in a completely relatable way. You may even wince or cringe, remembering a few of your own past less-than-graceful social interactions.
Like most romances of stage or screen, what unfolds is heavy on coincidence and requires some suspension of belief, which is not necessarily a criticism. Where the plot falls apart is in the lack of emotional development of the Henri character. Maggie expresses herself beautifully in her vocal performances, but we're not given equal insight into Henri. Williamson does an admirable job of enfusing his performance with sensitivity and emotion. However, the absence of a stronger narrative for Henri makes the end of the piece fall flat.
Marksteiner shines best during Maggie's songs. She shows wonderful command of the performance space and keeps the audience engaged during each musical interlude. The five-member band of Mayhew, Luke Koszycki, Andie Matten, Alex Bulova, and Adam Atienza should also be given their due. While at times the sound was a bit overwhelming for the space, their performance was wonderful and served the story very well.
The potential is there for Air Mail / Par Avion and it may prove interesting to sit in on several performances to see how the story evolves with each new telling.
Maggie Sarah Marksteiner
Henri Michael Williamson
Piano Chris Mayhew
Drums Luke Koszycki
Bass Andie Matten
Cello Alex Bulova
Guitar Adam Atienza
Director Sophie Mezebish / Music Director and Composer Chris Mayhew / Stage Manager Andie Matten / Lighting Designer Alex Poirier / Marketing and Publicity Director Alex Bulova
Class Act Players' Air Mail / Par Avion has five remaining performances: Saturday, 7/20, at 5:15 pm; Sunday, 7/21, at 7:45 pm; Tuesday, 7/23, at 8:30 pm; Saturday, 7/27, at 2:45 pm; and Sunday, 7/28, at 2:00 pm. More information and tickets are available at CapitalFringe.org.