Altitude Sickness is an original, collaborative entertainment that defies classification. It has monologues but isn't a solo show. It has singing and dancing but is only intermittently a musical. And it has incisive satire and some amusing characterizations and scenarios, but calling it a comedy neglects the dramatic components. The show is a revue, but unlike most revues, it has a plot.
Altitude Sickness follows five transplants from Colorado as they adjust to the bright lights and sometimes mean streets of New York City. Blue Coat Repertory Theatre was, in fact, formed last year by a group of actors who attended the University of Colorado-Boulder together (director Sean Ryan Kelley was their professor) and went on to work in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. The vivacious performances in Altitude Sickness are a credit to those two organizations, as they bespeak a maturity and training that are rare for young Off-Off-Broadway actors. This quirky show could fall flat if the performers were not so proficient at the many talents their roles demand-among them, handling comedy and drama, singing, and creating distinctive personalities.
Gina E. Cline played a champagne-company representative despairing over her unproductive sales territory, her inability to find a soulmate, and the multitude of homeless people in her neighborhood. Vivian Manning was an overeager actress trying to make the right connections. Matt Bodo portrayed a waiter/actor who can't communicate satisfactorily with friends or lovers. Royden Mills's character lands a job he hates with a boss he hates. And Trent Dawson played an actor with typical urban anxieties and addictions (coffee, working out, professional success, etc.). Jason Hauser served as an emcee, commentator, and multiple-role player. Also in the cast is pianist Fred Baldwin, who composed the music for the show. The characters' stories unfold and commingle, not in a sequence of scenes but through a series of sketches, monologues and songs that might be described as a hybrid of Saturday Night Live, a Jerry Herman musical, a sitcom, and a serious play. Despite the pop culture and psychology references and the characters' familiar neuroses, the material is well-written and doesn't seem trite. And despite a pessimistic tone toward the end, the play concludes with a cleverly phrased and useful message about making the most of the hand you're dealt in life.
Blue Coat takes the concept of an ensemble show to a new level with Altitude Sickness. All six actors are identified as creators of the play, and The Company is also credited with designing the set and costumes and writing lyrics for two of the four songs. The actors' multifaceted participation in Altitude Sickness is one more unique thing about this engaging production.
(Lighting, Julie Mack.)
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Copyright 1997 Adrienne Onofri