Once you have tasted flight you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward. For pilots are forever dreaming up dreams and finding ways to be one with the sky. Amelia Earhart; her infamous tale and story vanished without a trace. But so few people realize how very important she was to women of that time, not only as an iconic legend but as a motivational speaker and a hero in the women’s liberation movement.
Swooping into The Baltimore Theater Project for a two-weekend limited engagement, In-Flight Theater presents Air Heart, an aerial adventure that creates this legendary woman in a fascinating new light. Written and Performed by Mara Neimanis and Directed by Bryce Butler, the show invites audiences on an evening’s date with the gravity twins: flying and falling, an adventure that will tug at your heartstrings and invite new thoughts to the forefront of your mind.
The fascinating focal point of the show sits incarnate in Electra the sculpted replica of Amelia’s pride and joy, created by designers Laura Shults and Tim Scofield. An aerial apparatus is as important as the work being performed upon it in a production such as Air Heart. At several points throughout the production Writer/Performer Mara Neimanis becomes one continuous unit with the plane, her limbs a bird-like extension of the wire frame. Shults and Scofield’s creation is rather breathtaking to behold even if it isn’t to scale; the metal beast encompassing the spirit of human desire to fly in its lustrous golden framework.
Lighting Designers Kendra Richards and Alex Lawson bring jarring wonder to moments of tragic beauty in the production. The orange and yellow glow of a horizon that can never quite be reached is one of the many repetitive and symbolically thematic devices utilized in this production. Flashbulb whites imitate Earhart’s many encounters with reporters as she prepares for her final journey. Jocelyn Pook provides a series of intensely serene musical numbers that underscore, and at times overwhelm, the performance.
Sound balancing is a minor issue in the production as there are times where Pook’s swells of music overcomes Neimanis’ text and some of her more interesting monologue pieces, especially during her initial recital of “letters to Eleanor Roosevelt.” The other minor complaint to the show is the fascinating map board that remains hidden at the back of the set until near the end of the show. While it is fascinating to watch Neimanis track Earhart’s journey with red ribbon markers as the announcements whir in a blur overhead, the sculpture of the plane obscures most of what is happening. The map board either needs to be brought to the foreground of the stage or perhaps be treated as a projection above the sculpture s so that it can be more fully experienced.
Neimanis’ creation of this piece is stunning. Blending fact and fiction to fully bring to fruition this dynamic layered character of Amelia Earhart, Neimanis creates a remarkable show that will have you drawn to rapt attention from the moment it starts. The aerial work itself blends so seamlessly with the text and voiceovers used in the performance that you easily forget you are seeing an aerial artist working the intensity of her core strength to support her figure within the framework of the plane. She crafts so many symbolic moments where her body becomes one with the plane; a hybrid of human desire and technological possibility that at the time was thought impossible: flight.
The fabrication of the letters to Eleanor Roosevelt is a bold but earnest place of inspiration in Neimanis’ work. While historical speculation remains a topic of curiosity involving the exact nature of their relationship, Neimanis’ creation manages to establish humanity and vulnerability, as well as great respect, in these letter segments, many of which create the most breathtakingly serene moments in the performance. Layers of a woman unknown are created in these communications; a brilliant example of Neimanis’ impressive creativity.
Playing as both Amelia, with determination in her postured poses for the reporters, and as herself, a woman deeply connected to flight, Neimanis blurs the lines between who is who. There are times when a simple aviator’s cap on the head signals the audience to know she is Amelia. With no vocal distinction between herself as a narrative entity and Earhart, the bold choice to blend these women of flight becomes the fine indistinguishable line between falling and flying, both the daughters of the God of Gravity.
Neimanis uses repetition in her production to anchor the audience in heightened emotional moments. Replaying the final transmissions— factually lifted from the originals and rerecorded in her own voice— of Amelia’s distress calls before she vanished and combining those moments with severe lighting and brutal slow-motion aerial work; this moment that lives frozen in time throughout the production is the most striking that occurs in the entire show.
Visually remarkable, Air Heart sweeps you up in its raw emotions. History rediscovered through mesmerizing work that speaks volumes of women in flight, of all varieties. Air Heart will not stay grounded in Baltimore long, so do not miss this rare and unique opportunity to discover it.