By David Greig
Directed by Aidan Fennessy
With Ella Caldwell, Olga Makeeva, David Whiteley, Simon Wood, Craig Annis, Luke Elliot & Justin Kennedy
Set Design by Aiden Fennessy
Lighting by Stelios Karagiannis
Stage Manager Shane McConnon
The American Pilot (12 July -12 Aug, 2006) Chris Boyd, Herald Sun 16/07/2006
According to The West Wing’s fictional president Jed Bartlet, a citizen of the Roman Empire could walk across the face of the known world free of fear, “cloaked only in the words Civis Romanis – I am a Roman citizen”. If that citizen was harmed, the Empire would strike back. Hard.
The new Roman Empire, the United States of America, would also like to claim that right for its citizens. But today the payback doesn’t look all that different from America’s usual bully-boy behaviour. And so, at every opportunity, rebels, terrorists, the browbeaten and downtrodden will take any opportunity given them to give the bully a blood nose.
In David Greig’s play, a US pilot has crashed in a civil war zone. When the play begins he has been found by villagers and is a captive. Nominally he is an enemy, because the US supports the government the villagers are fighting against.
Their dilemma is what to do with the American. A farmer and his family tend his terrible wounds, they feed and comfort him: but they don’t wish to draw attention to themselves. A trader-reservist reckons he can sell a video of the pilot’s beheading to a contact in Dubai for $US1 million.
The local captain and his translator (who loathes America, but still thinks it the most perfect society on earth) each want vengeance for the loss of loved ones in an American missile strike. The captain also sees some small tactical advantage to be gained.
The pilot’s presence is likened to discovering that the stone you’ve picked up is really a fistful of uranium. And that’s a fair reflection of the technological gulf between them.
The playwright exaggerates that gap, but not by much. (Even here, in a place where owning a television is cause for suspicion, the farmer still knows Daffy Duck when he sees him.)
Aidan Fennessy’s production pushes the differences to another level. The villagers are no longer human, no longer really alive. They’re dusty, hollowed-out Stone Age zombies. Their actions are barbaric. Only the pilot’s agony is ever made real.
Aside from that quibble, this is an imaginative and good-looking production with a magic realist edge.
Greig’s play is a little teachy-preachy for my liking – and his late tilt towards the Joan of Arc story is just plain loopy – but the writing is much better than the plotting.
The American Pilot is harrowing, but blackly funny and well acted. Best of all, Red Stitch has yet again provided us with a hot-off-the-presses play. The American Pilot was premiered (by the Royal Shakespeare Company, no less) just over a year ago.
Bill Perrett, The Sunday Age Preview Magazine 23/7/06
Red Stitch’s latest is a strange mixture of brutal realism, symbolist abstraction and farce. In David Greig’s play an American pilot (Craig Annis) has crashed near a remote village in a country riven by civil war. He has been brought to the barn of a local farmer (David Whiteley), where he sits uncomfortably, his leg broken and the rest of his body battered.
He becomes a touchstone for the other characters. For the farmer, he’s a human being in need of help. For the farmer’s wife, Sarah (Olga Makeeva), he’s a dangerous liability. For their daughter, Evie (Ella Caldwell), the pilot is some kind of apotheosis. A trader (Luke Elliot) sees him as a chance to make money. A captain of a rebel force (Simon Wood) regards him as a chance to defeat the government. Only the captain’s translator (Justin Kennedy) has any clue of what the pilot is saying and thinking; the others don’t speak English. The translator is a burnt out idealist turned pragmatist, and because he understands the pilot, he doesn’t really attach any importance to him at all. It’s a clever play that turns on ideas of identity, morality and reality, on self-delusion and conviction, and on the constructed nature of social relationships.
The cast has a fine time with some entertaining characters; a little more polish will no doubt be accrued as the season goes on.