A bold new fusion in performance art comes to the stage as In-Flight Theater presents Naomi’s Flight, an original work written and performed by Mara Neimanis. Directed by Bryce Butler, this piece of performance art combines the elements of theatrical storytelling with aerial acrobatics, blended seamlessly into an over-arching narrative that touches the deepest cockles of the heart. Using her body as a vessel to transport the words of her mother’s tale, Neimanis explores physical expression as an extension of her dynamic and moving story about her mother’s struggle with diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease.
The lyrical output of the vignettes is stunning, Neimanis moves through a series of interconnected moments varying from points of view all while engaging her body on the aerial apparatuses. There are even rigid moments of disconnect between points in the story where the voice of a caretaker inserts instructions about insulin. The entire performance uses Neimanis’ voice to different degrees, except for the jarring moments of poignant facts. While the statistics about the two diseases bring the story into a perspective of reality, they disrupt the flow of the piece by being read in a male voice, which appears from nowhere. This is the only moment of fault in this production and had Neimanis chosen to use her own voice— altered slightly as she did for many of the other moments throughout the production— it would have made a flawless connection into the performance rather than stood out and been a derailing factor.
Neimanis’s symbolic use of a ladder-framed silhouette is a clever device for further exposing the differentiation between the three voices used most frequently throughout the show— her father’s voice, who only ever appears on the lower rungs of the ladder, grounding the situation; her mother— who climbs about freely much higher up closer to the sky, aloof and lost in the trappings of the disease; and herself as the daughter who climbs up and down the exterior of the framework, never truly delving into it; the onlooker from outside the situation. This subtle symbolism drives home the key roles everyone plays in a situation where a loved one ends up detached from themselves, needing round the clock care.
One of the most captivating moments of Neimanis’s performance is done on solid ground away from the aerial configurations. There are several clips where she vividly reenacts dream sequences where she is strangling or otherwise harming the doctor who has prescribed the meds to her mother, playing both herself and the doctor simultaneous. It is an intense cathartic release to watch her express such stress and frustration upon herself, a metaphor for how perhaps deep down she doesn’t blame the doctor but herself for not truly being able to help. The scenes are fast-paced and done all in severe mime with a brutal voiceover that switches up the pacing of the show just enough to keep you on edge.
The juxtaposition that Neimanis creates when playing the mother up on the pentagonal framework is tragically beautiful. A woman bound by her physicality as her mental facilities wane; blinking in and out of existence, to then be expressed in those breathtakingly fluid movements of extreme muscular power and control as she contorts her body and extends her limbs in all directions, flipping over the bars, hoisting herself up and down, and maneuvering them as if they were the blood that ran through her veins; it is a stunning image that will not be easily forgotten.
Her work as a whole is a devastatingly wondrous piece that delivers important messages about the lifestyle of a family coping with mental illness and the daily adaptation that has to be made. It is a haunting and moving piece that will easily hit home for anyone who has been or is in a similar situation. Neimanis’s expressions of raw emotion are pure and uninhibited and this flows into her body making them larger than life during her aerial acrobatics.
The story, while tragic, is truly beautiful, and told in such a fashion that it keeps your eyes wide, albeit with tears, to the very end; a performance that will shake you to the core with understanding, compassion, and empathy.
Running Time: Approximately one hour, with no intermission.