Time and space intersect in disaster fantasy


By Bob Evans

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Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre opens 2018 with a fantasy focused on one of the greatest disasters in space technology for the United States, as Jane Anderson’s play, “Defying Gravity” creates a story to leading up to the disaster and the aftermath of those dealing with the tragedy of lives lost.

The 1986 space shuttle disaster shocked the world when the spacecraft malfunctioned on liftoff, killing all seven crew members in the first space disaster of its kind.

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“The space shuttle Challenger was one of NASA’s greatest triumphs. It was the second shuttle to reach space, in April 1986. It successfully completed nine milestone missions.

“But Challenger was also NASA’s darkest tragedy. On its 10th launch, on Jan. 28, 1986, the shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing the seven crew-members. The accident changed the space program forever,” according to the website space.com.

Anderson’s play creates several side-stories surrounding the disaster, a couple on a cross country excursion who witness the liftoff and disaster, the astronaut/mother/daughter the day prior to the accident, a tech and his bar-owner girlfriend–before and after the disaster, and a time-traveler/painter, Claude Monet. Sounds confusing, but as the play progresses all characters and their stories intertwine into an easy-going space odyssey.

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For this space-age play, artistic director Karen Paisley handed directorial duties to Bob Stewart who navigated the piece with a strong cast: Bailey Rose Steinke, Laura Jacobs, Robert Gibby Brand, Lewis J. Morrow, Shawna Pena-Downing, Nancy Nail, Tim Ahlenius. To help them create the fantasy, stage manager was Chris Gleeson, set design by Karen Paisley, sound design by Maxwell Frederickson, master electrician work by Jacob Bothell, and props by Marc Manley.

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One technical aspect that stands out is the projection and background designed for this play. The lighting changes allow the backdrop to change with moods to fit each scene. It’s something very new and exciting to see in the MET space.

The play, interesting as it is, has some gaps that just do not fit tightly together. While it entertains, one could certainly walk away scratching one’s head. The show is light and uplifting, although based on a tragic disaster for America. It’s hard to walk away if you lived through and remember the remorse of the day of the explosion.

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The cast grounds the piece with strong acting and solid stage presence. Every character brings a nuance to the piece from the whimsical French Impressionist artist to the earthbound space technician and the bar owner. The relationship between the mother and daughter gives insight into what may have happened in  Christa McAuliffe last days with her family. The most interesting story comes from the traveling married couple played by Ahlenius and Nail. Their story holds all the others in place, and they stand out from this ensemble cast.

Defying Gravity opened Saturday, Jan 13 at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre and runs through Jan. 28. Tickets may be purchased online at the MET website.

Tags: Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, “Defying Gravity”, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment


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