Given the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, there's an extra haunting quality to "Air Heart," an inventive and absorbing aerial stage work about aviator Amelia Earhart currently at Baltimore Theatre Project.
Written and performed by Mara Neimanis, the one-hour piece addresses the joy of flight, the curse of celebrity, and much more as it seeks to impart a sense of who Earhart was and what she wanted to be.
Neimanis has cleverly mixed fact and fiction to create a script that rings true, right down to some made-up letters from Earhart to Eleanor Roosevelt, and she delivers the text with a good deal of nuance. Multimedia touches introduce assorted recorded voices -- news reports, press conferences, etc. -- to atmospheric effect. Likewise telling is the lighting design by Kendra Richards and Alec Lawson.
The work really takes off when Neimanis does, making full use of the main stage prop, an imposing metal sculpture of a plane crafted by Laura Shults and Tim Scofield. It could have easily become a cheesy device, but Neimanis climbs, spins and nestles into the plane in ways at once athletic and poetic.
Adding to the theatrical pull of the production is music by British composer Jocelyn Pook, especially "Blow the Wind/Pie Jesu." That bittersweet piece, which samples the indelible voice of contralto Kathleen Ferrier singing the first line of the folk song "Blow the Wind Southerly," could not be more perfectly matched to the show.
There may be an abrupt transition or two, along with a few overly reiterative or heavy-handed points. But the work holds together firmly and succeeds in shedding welcome light on the ever-fascinating, truly legendary Earhart, who, as Neimanis tell us, was just a girl in 1922, but Peter Pan a decade later.
"Air Heart" is a flight well worth taking.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun