San Diego, CA.—The trouble with airport waiting rooms and flight delays is that everyone at one point or another is sitting next to someone they don’t know, don’t want to know about and really don’t care about. For reasons beyond their control, they are all in the same boat and conversations have a natural flow to them especially when the wait time is prolonged and the weather is involved.
On my recent trip to Israel, we were delayed on the tarmac or over two hours because of storms. In those two hours I found out all about my seatmate who he was, what his work was, his wife’s work, his mother in law’s work and his children’s schooling. No problems here. As soon as we had lift off he fell asleep for the duration of the flight. I had more to say but I was out of luck.
Would that that could have been the good fortune for Margaret (Ellen Crawford) who is stranded at Reagan National Airport and who finds herself seated at a table for two, alone and sipping on some wine and waiting for the arrival of her son who is on his way home from ‘trekking’ Nepal. The waiting area is overcrowded and seats are at a premium. There is even an empty wine glass sitting in front of the empty seat just waiting for her son to show up.
Because of flight delays and overcrowded conditions, all the other seats in the waiting room at this particular gate were being occupied. When Patty (Melinda Gilb) stumbles into this area talking rather loudly into her Blue Tooth and overburdened with her ‘carry on’ luggage, Margaret (Ellen Crawford) just about jumps out of her skin in surprise.
Patty is looking all around for a place to wait until the storm passes over and she eyes the empty seat at Margaret’s table, but Margaret looks away and continues to sip from her own wine glass while pretending to be reading her travel book on Moscow.
And the game of cat and mouse continues; Patty rests against the wall and stares, Margaret sips her wine and both refuse to give an inch until Margaret finally relents and motions to Patty that she may sit in the empty seat while she too waits for the storm to subside. Before either of the women’s journeys begins, ours starts at the table at the airport in this, the west coast premiere showing of Joe Calarco’s Walter Cronkite is Dead.
From the outside looking in one might assume that these two women are polar opposites. Patty dressed in shades of blue, is in just below the knees jeans, tennis shoes and T-shirt and cell phone in hand and speaking with a heavy southern accent. In contrast Margaret, dressed in shades of red, is in a smartly coordinated skirt and jacket (Valerie Henderson well put together and seems to be studying what’s written on a scrap of paper. She is a local and her speech is in quiet contrast to Patty’s rather loud voice.
OK. Here is where we begin to form our opinions and let our prejudices kick in and expect one big and juicy confrontation of ideas based on location, location, location or north vs. south or in political terms, Blue- Liberal (Margaret) vs. Red-Conservative (Patty).
It just doesn’t happen, so throw that idea out the window. Walter Cronkite might be dead and civility gone the way of southern genteelness and hoola hoops. But every action doesn’t necessarily cause a reaction and in Calarco’s new play we learn more about these two women than they care to let us in on by their body language and the tone of their voices, which is very persuasive by both actors.
That changes, however, throughout the ninety minutes we spend together with them thanks to first time director Shana Wride’s great instincts and firm hand and to Melinda Gilb who really has her character nailed; body movements down to a science and with a look and a pause that that can crack you up. Crawford has Margaret firmly in hand and gives a stellar performance in her quiet and reserved, yet distant way.
Calarco’s story, that is a bit too talky, also tells us that we really have more in common than not. We can argue all we want about the socio-economic stratosphere, but mother to mother talk usually meets the standards of a common denominator: we can lead our offspring to water, but we can’t make them drink. So when Patty and Margaret finally do get past the starting gate of how wonderful their respective kids are we learn that, as is most of the time when talking about our offspring, it sounds better than it is.
What we do know, for real, is that both mothers love their children unconditionally, difficult as it may be at times. The good news is by the time Patty and Margaret finally board to their respective destinations, Gilb and Crawford, who provide the ying and yang of this production have convinced that accents can be deceiving and what we wear is not a reflection on what we think and what we read is not a sign of our intellect and listening and hearing are two different things. Lot’s of lessons here to be gleaned.
The simple but overcrowded set designed by Sean Fanning is a good representation of what most airport waiting rooms I’ve been in look like. Valerie Henderson’s contrasting color coordinated costumes do the job of allowing us to pre judge the characters, Ross Glanc’s lighting is bright on waiting room glare and Omar Ramos’ sound design is airport ready with muffled announcements and deafening jets sounds.
For those that remember Walter Cronkite, and yours truly does the days of civility where dignity and good manners ruled are pretty much a thing of the past. That doesn’t necessarily exclude us from remembering our good manners and that makes the time spent watching Walter Cronkite is Dead, good food for the soul.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Oct. 16th
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: $32.00-$51.00
Venue: Lyceum Space