Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Defying Gravity

Mother Road Theatre Company
Review by Carole C. Sullivan

Wendy Scott
Photo by Jason Ponic Photography
Playwright and screen and TV writer (How to Make an American Quilt) Jane Anderson packs a lot into Defying Gravity. The play was first presented in 1997 and explores the events surrounding the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster of 1986. Focusing on a fictional version of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher in space, the play explores human aspirations and errors in and around the tragedy, both figuratively and literally.

The non-linear and impressionistic action of the play jumps from 1986 to twenty years later and includes an assortment of seemingly unconnected players: the teacher and her six-year-old daughter; a retired couple traveling in a Winnebago to see the Challenger lift-off; the proprietor of a bar near the Cocoa Beach launch site and her sometime boyfriend; a member of the launch ground crew; and Claude Monet.

In the 80-minute intermission-free production, a variety of themes and topics are considered relating to man's desire, both metaphysical and concrete, to be free from earth. Medieval cathedrals, painting perspective, space exploration specifically and generally, mother/daughter relationships, all are examined in a fast-paced, somewhat disjointed series of scenes. The author has written so many pedantic discussion topics that the play's core of human connection is almost lost. Still, the play has had numerous well-received regional theater productions throughout the country.

Tying this all together in a coherent production is no small accomplishment, and director David Sinkus is to be congratulated on delivering a nearly seamless production. He is ably assisted by the designers with well thought-out and executed projections, lighting and special effects, serviceable costumes, and a set that is beautiful and evocative in the black box space.

In its twelve year history, the Mother Road Theatre Company has distinguished itself with superior acting. The cast of Defying Gravity are all more than capable. Matthew Van Wettering brings a quiet honesty to the often mystifying role of Monet; at times he is even poignant. Catherine Haun, John Wylie, Eric Bodwell and Jenelle Baptiste, as the two couples, all display fine acting chops and comedic timing.

Wendy Scott brings solid maternal decency to the role of Teacher, a role that, as written, has many pitfalls for an actress. Kelsey Ann O'Keefe as six-year-old Elizabeth is not really believable. This adult actress cannot quite bring the verisimilitude called for in the mother-daughter scenes. Age appropriate casting would have made these encounters so much more touching. Kelsey Ann's job also could have been made easier by costuming that suggested a child.

Overall, the cast is up to and better than the play. The script never quite brings the elements of the supernatural together with the naturalistic concerns of motherhood and guilt. The final scenes utilize movement and collage to underscore the message of defying gravity to see the world as God sees it or as six-year-old Elizabeth might dream it. The rather silly interactions in these culminating scenes are employed to bring all the elements together. They don't quite succeed, but Mother Road delivers a thought-provoking, professional evening in the theater.

Mother Road Theatre Company's Defying Gravity runs through October 6, 2019, at Musical Theatre Southwest, 6320 Domingo Rd. NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. For tickets and information, visit or call 505-243-0596.

Playwright: Jane Anderson
Director: David Sinkus Costume Design: Diana Baca
Set Design: Vic Bowder
A/V Design: Josh Brown
Lighting Design: Ray Rey Griego

The Cast:
Matthew Van Wettering
Kelsey Ann O'Keefe
Wendy Scott
Catherine Haun
John Wylie
Eric Bodwell
Jenelle Baptiste