The Eagle Has Landed is dreamy, elliptical and oddly engaging. It captures the audience quickly and does not easily surrender its grasp.
Like a poem, it uses an economical vocabulary to tell its story. Every movement, tone and syllable is packed with meaning.
Because it is so condensed and distilled, this kind of play is a kind of high-wire act for the actors, and requires performers as skilled as the three members of the Liverpool-based Fool's Proof Theatre to pull it off. Falter, and the audience will feel confused instead of enlightened, annoyed instead of refreshed.
The performers - Ben Phillips, Mary Pearson and Britt Jurgensen - stumble only at the very end of the show, and only slightly.
If the play's title sounds familiar, that's because the work is loosely structured on the 1976 film thriller about a German paratrooper unit sent to England during World War II to kidnap Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Both the film, which starred Michael Caine, and the play contain such classic genre elements as a false document and a female spy.
Fool's Proof's version tells the story of Marvin Williams (Phillips), a gawky announcer for BBC radio, who receives a mysterious summons from his older brother, Jonathan, whom he hasn't seen in 20 years. Marvin travels to Germany, the U.S. and Mexico in search of his elusive sibling, aided in his quest by Julie (Pearson), a geeky archivist for the radio station.
As is true of all stories about missing persons, Marvin is really searching for himself. When Eagle falls short, it's because the audience never is clear about what is lacking in Marvin's life before he undertakes his journey, or what his trip helps him to discover.
The show's message might have something to do with the importance of trusting our instincts. The minds of both Marvin and Julie seem at war with their physical selves.
Pearson has a square little body, but she moves with great grace. At one point, when Julie lies on her back on a gurney, arching over to retrieve her documents, her skirt falling back and her lovely legs tracing arabesques in the air, it is easy to sense the underlying sexuality that threatens to overwhelm this nervous and easily flustered young woman.
And when Phillips is embodying Marvin, the actor holds his mouth in a confused little "o" and peers out through his glasses, wide-eyed and blinking. The character resembles nothing so much as a goldfish trapped in a bowl.
But when Phillips removes his spectacles and takes on the role of Jonathan, an uber-masculine seducer of women, the audience suddenly becomes aware of how strong Phillips is, of how swiftly and adroitly his body does his bidding.
Jurgensen is not yet as accomplished a chameleon, and a few minor portrayals verge on the jokey. Yet, she shines in the key of Mary Lou, a waitress with a troubled past who's working in a run-down roadside cafe in New Mexico.
Scenery in the show is nonexistent, and props are minimal: a red balloon, a battered suitcase, a gurney and a metal frame painted white that become, variously, a bed, a wardrobe and a truck hurtling down a New York street.
This is a show that doesn't tell; it suggests. And despite its sophistication, it contains not a single drop of irony. That might be the best thing about it.
There is no archness, no implication that the performers are better than the material. There is only a story, told with muscle and sinew and sweat.
If that isn't theater, what is?
if you go
The Eagle Has Landed runs through Sunday at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. Showtimes are 8 p.m. today-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10-$20. Call 410-752-8558 or go to theatreproject.org.