Reviewed by Amy Lyons
Asylum, Main Space
Through June 23
There’s no lack of dramatic action in this fast-paced World War II piece about a female regiment of the Soviet Air Force. The brigade of air-borne night bombers is based on the real-life 588th Regiment, a Stalinist troupe nicknamed “Nachthexen” or “Night Witches” by the Nazis, and the history lesson is the show’s most satisfying aspect. On the problematic side is the show’s identity crisis — it zig-zags a disorienting stylistic path between farce, melodrama, talky historic fiction and deadly serious tragedy. Writer-director Will McMichael’s dramaturgical mashup prevents audiences from settling in for what could be a deeply satisfying ode to the bravery of a few good women written out of the history books.
Grand Guignol is the mainstay of the San Francisco-based company, so there is some visually pleasing puppetry that starts out with arresting dramatic impact but sadly becomes gimmicky by show’s end: during fight scenes, pilots’ faces are lit a menacing red while puppeteers fly glowing planes overhead; around the third time this largely unvaried device is repeated, it loses its dramatic appeal and devolves into a hollow parlor trick.
The cast is sufficiently solid, with Heather Schmidt bringing equal doses of innocence and shaky grit to the teenager-turned-war-hero protagonist. Julia Griswold is the standout of the ensemble, bringing a nerdy and understated brand of bravery to the reluctant but smart aviator she plays.
Asylum, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/3489; through June 23. Running time: 90 minutes