(This was Jerry's review of the original production in January 2007.)
Skydive features one of the most exciting opening scenes of live theatre you’ll see this year. As pulsating ‘80s arena rock fills the theatre, two bodies in silver jumpsuits fly through the liquid blackness of the stage. They climb and dive, loop and spin with exhilarating, gravity-defying joy.
The story of these characters in Kevin Kerr’s new play, jointly directed by Roy Surette and Stephen Drover, is sometimes raucously funny. But it’s ultimately less interesting than the production’s exciting marriage of technology, choreography, and human ingenuity, and the story behind the story.
Skydive’s characters are a classic odd couple. Obsessive-compulsive Daniel (Bob Frazer) seems afflicted with every phobia known to man. Easy-going older brother Morgan (James Sanders), a self-professed therapist, prescribes skydiving (“a deep-tissue massage for your soul”) as a way for Daniel to push beyond his fears.
When Daniel points out the obvious—he can barely leave his apartment much less jump from a plane—Morgan moves in with him, coaching Daniel in “lucid dreaming,” a confidence-building technique whereby a person consciously controls his own dreams. Eventually, Daniel and Morgan take the plunge together, with unexpected consequences.
The brothers’ shared memories climax in an unconvincing revelation of the childhood trauma that misshaped Daniel for life. But the plot is mostly an excuse for reminiscences of growing up in the ‘80s—raunchy sex stories and the Six Million Dollar Man with Supertramp and Corey Hart on the evocative soundtrack.
Despite Kerr’s witty dialogue and extended comic sequences like one where the boys lip-synch to Madonna, the real action is visual. Each actor is attached to the end of something called an ES Dance Instrument that looks like a Canadarm. Controlled by four operators dressed in black so that we almost never see them, the arms keep the actors suspended in air for the entire play.
Sven Johansson’s amazing aerial choreography is most evident in dream sequences where the characters “swim” underwater or fly up into the Milky Way (showcasing Adrian Muir’s beautiful lighting design), in a whitewater kayaking episode and in the skydive itself. At its most dynamic the technique reminded me of the fight scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But even when they’re just talking, one actor vividly drifts along at a 45° angle while the other sits in mid-air with his legs casually crossed.
You might wonder why Sanders, a decent actor at best, is paired with the consistently terrific Frazer. Turns out he’s artistic director of the producing company, Realwheels, and a paraplegic, encased in a fibreglass body-brace that keeps his legs rigid while he’s airborne.
Realwheels aims to overcome stereotypes associated with disability and Skydive does just that. Maybe you can’t walk, but you can fly.
Caution: the evening curtain for Skydive, a PuSh Festival co-production, is 7:00 pm.