Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Flight Plan

Santa Fe Playhouse
Review by Mark Dunn

Also see Rob's review of Poison

Danielle Louise Reddick, Vaughn Irving,
and Samantha Orner

Photo by Lynn Roylance
Marguerite Louise Scott, author of the new seriocomic play Flight Plan, which is being offered in a visually riveting premiere production at the Santa Fe Playhouse, speaks eloquently about the inspiration for this work. She bases it on her struggles with PTSD and depression. It is her experience with a broken American mental health system that strongly informs this searing indictment of government-subsidized mental health delivery, and specifically the under-funded institutions that shoulder the responsibility of caring for those in the low income tier, especially those our society has tragically marginalized.

The play is a raw and ragged—by turns darkly comic and heartbreakingly poignant—submersion into the bowels of a facility called, with or without imposed irony, the Sunnyland Sanctuary. It is superintended by a doctor who is the clear embodiment of the Peter Principle. If there is a glass ceiling of accomplishment for this particular mental health care giver, you'll find him in the building's cellar. The play orbits around the four most recently admitted patients ("inmates" is also an occasional slipped-tongue denomination) and their interactions with one another and with Dr. Fraued and Nurse Hammer, who seems to both love and hate her job as head nurse and putative warden.

Scott's play, which she admits is a work in progress, is uneven in places and could do with some cutting, but it is well on its way to proving itself worthy of that genre of black comedies that ultimately turn mischievous grin to harrowing grimace—a horror movie on the stage, antiseptically whitewashed in all its nooks and crannies but giving no recess from the bleak realities of its protagonists' battles with their various psychotic and emotional afflictions.

By deliberate intention or simple fortuity it is Nurse Hammer who delivers some of the show's best lines and late in the play asks the question that Flight Plan is nudging us all to ask: “What is the meaning of this mayhem?” And the play delivers mayhem in spades (while answering the question with a bureaucrat's shrug). Director Christine McHugh has made the choice to create physical chaos throughout, via character movement that is frantic and urgent but always unavailing. She has paced the production so that the play's physical business becomes even more frenzied as the story reaches its climax. It is, after all, a mental institution, and if the inmates haven't taken over, they have nonetheless defined their illogical terms of engagement. Watching the chaos and mayhem reminded me of the "crazy ants" in my backyard, who maunder in strange circles with no clear directive.

The performances of this company of six actors are extremely strong. Linda Loving is the standout, with the dual roles of Tyler Logan's mother Gracie and the more meaty part of Nurse Hammer. She's a three-way cross between High Anxiety's sinister Nurse Diesel, the more diabolically subtle Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Dickens' private nurse from hell, Sarah Gamp. Not only does the character get the lion's share of the best lines, she is played to perfection by Linda Loving—loathsome and funny at the same time.

Vaughn Irving excels in the darkly comic role of the clinically neurotic Dr. Fraued. As the suicidal Arianna and the lost soul Bernard, Samantha Orner and Don Converse bring an aching poignancy to their performances, which claims a special space of quiet pain in this maelstrom of madness. One of the most touching moments of the play occurs late in the first act, and Converse owns it without question. Tyler Logan's performance as young James, the OCD-plagued walking encyclopedia of pop culture, is meticulously delivered and possesses a reality of presentation that is hauntingly gripping. Danielle Louise Reddick's Celia admirably plays all the layers of character that Scott has given her to work with, including a standout moment of frenetic psychosis that is another of the play's highlights.

The show's design elements are perfect, including lighting by Monique Lacoste, which creates against this stark white canvas a large palette of chromatic commentary. Irving's set is spare and functional—hospital antisepsis cum dingy cost-cutting stinge. Jeff Nell effectively meets the challenge of an audio-adjunct to the show that must offer the properly oppressive mood, while abetting the voices inside the heads of the play's inner-tormented characters. I also liked the simplicity of Sylka Feliciano's costumes. Poor Bernard, who is on a futile quest to find his deceased wife Doris, wears pants that are scuffed and soiled, indicative of the fact that his obsession perhaps keeps him from visiting his closet very often—a nice detail.

Scott has done a fine job of telling a story that unveils to us aspects of her own personal journey. Her vision, which she continues to shape, couldn't have a better bunch of facilitators.

Flight Plan, through May 20, 2018, at the Santa Fe Playhouse, 142 East De Vargas Street, Santa Fe NM. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Info at or 505-988-4262. The running time is around 2-1/2 hours, with one intermission.