Frequent Flyer Wiles
In Terminal Baggage, Paul Tei and Ivonne Azurdia have hatched a batch of quirky tone poems that center on what people do in airports while waiting, interminably, to fly. The result is a production that skids into turbulence yet hits a cruising altitude to deliver an evening of well-acted fun.
Given the realities of modern airline travel, with its irksome security snarls and frustrating flight delays, Tei, the founder of Miami's Mad Cat Theatre Company; and Azurdia, its resident playwright, had plenty of material to mine.
Making its world premiere at the Light Box, the play features a cast of eight local actors starring in multiple roles in a dozen vignettes arranged in two acts. The stories mostly unfold as encounters between strangers, relatives, friends, and lovers as they jawbone to wile their time away while stranded in airport limbo from Miami to Chicago, Atlantic City, Charlotte, Atlanta, New York, Rome, Berlin, and back.
Upon entering the performance space, patrons are met by a flight attendant who escorts them to their seats, where a bag of Planters peanuts and a program await. The spartan set design consists of signage painted directly on the space's walls, with arrows pointing the way to an airport's terminal, baggage claim, and gates.
As audience members shifted in their seats, anxious for the runway to clear for Act One, a video projection captured the hustle and bustle of air travel, with scenes of passengers rushing to catch planes, unclaimed luggage whizzing by on conveyer belts, and baggage handlers cruising a tarmac in yellow carts.
The peanuts, wisecracking flight attendant, and dizzy video footage cleverly combined to evoke a sense that some kind of ride was in store. After the stewardess, in a Midwestern nasal twang, thanked the audience for flying Mad Cat Airlines, the action began.
In Azurdia's "My Space," strangers outside Miami International Airport strike up a conversation while waiting for their lovers to arrive. Zach, a ringer for Pauly Shore, clips Natalie for a clove cigarette and chokes on it after a few puffs. Played by a twitchy Matthew Glass, the anxiety-addled Zach is waiting for his Icelandic "fiancée," whom he met on the Internet but has never seen. Natalie, played by a plucky Katherine Amadeo, tells him that his affair smacks of a "marriage for papers," and Zach bristles, admitting that although her comment may be true, there's a chance it might grow into something more. When Natalie informs him she is waiting for her photographer boyfriend, who has chucked a successful career in the Big Apple "just to be with her," the delusional Zach caps the odd exchange with a dig at the gullible bimbo, who throws up her arms and cries as he skulks away. Is her relationship headed nowhere just as fast?
Azurdia's implausible "Security," set at a security checkpoint, felt a bit undercooked. In it a security officer rifles through a young man's carry-on bag. After she finds a sack of pot in his luggage, the man, who's on his way to Las Vegas hoping to bond with "a son he's never met," says it's all a big mistake. She swallows his sob story without batting a lash and lets him off the hook. Believing she's letting him skate seemed a stretch.
Holes also bubble up in a wacky piece by Azurdia that opens inside Atlantic City's International Airport as the tune "Blue Moon" blares from the speakers. "Limbo" pairs a ghostly geezer and an inveterate young gambler who has lost $15,000 on a poker game and is heading home to his wife with his tail tucked between his legs. George Schiavone delivers a toothy performance as Charlie, a sensible spook, while Scott Genn holds his mud as the hung-over and self-destructive Grady. Despite their fine acting, the convoluted script kept the action from gaining traction with the audience. It turns out Grady is the beneficiary of Charlie's bum liver following a transplant and that his new organ's warranty may be on the verge of expiring. Charlie, a former baggage handler who haunts airports because he feels at home in them, tells Grady he better start flying straight and do right by the wife and kids. "You got a second chance just not for long," he warns the hopeless mope.
Despite its uneven nature, Terminal Baggage soars in the funnier pieces, such as Tei's "Baby Kitty and the 'Coons" and Azurdia's "The World Cup" and "Love and Marriage." "Waitress in the Sky," which they co-wrote, ends up knocking a pitch out of the park with a sketch that was by far the night's best.
Azurdia and Amadeo are excellent as burned-out flight attendants who despise their jobs and are musing over why some drip sitting in an airport bar looks so depressed. Azurdia plays Percy, an alcoholic stewardess who hates to fly. Amadeo's Samantha is the always-optimistic magnolia queen hankering for a lasting romance, only to find herself pole-axed by married men. The women's complaints that they are little more than cocktail waitresses at 40,000 feet or hookers in nicer uniforms make it sound as if they've been toiling on an airborne gulag with little chance of escape. The scene climaxes with Samantha wishing herself into a "happy place" as she boards a plane to continue to ply her sorry trade, while Percy dips into her bag, yanks out a flask, and guzzles the sauce before joining her friend.
"Love and Marriage" revolves around a woman (Azurdia) who loses control and breaks out into hives anytime someone gets hitched, and her friend (Kameshia Duncan) who tries to keep the ditz calm. It takes place in an airport restaurant, where Azurdia breathes in and out of a paper bag while the charismatic Duncan warbles a ditty to keep the butterfly nets at bay. Stoked by Duncan's campy yet sonorous rendition of The Sound of Music's "My Favorite Things," the hyperventilating Azurdia whips herself into an amped-up lather at the beginning of the piece in a performance that pushed the house over the edge.
A surprising Erik Fabregat lingered on the palate like salted peanuts long after the curtains closed. His scenes as the musician in "Baby Kitty and the 'Coons" and as the sports-crazed fan who, along with his clueless girlfriend, blows his wad on a trip to cheer on the Costa Rican team at the World Cup were shamelessly animated and bitingly funny.
Peppered with plenty of allusions to life in the Big Orange and flavored with a hilarious dose of Spanglish to pilot Terminal Baggage home, this flight is bumpy at times, but it's a trip worth taking.
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