WELCOME TO KITTY HAWK
The Little Theatre, 608 19th E., 329-2629, $10-$12 pay-what-you-can Thurs., April 25; 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sun.; second show 9:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. ends Sun., April 28
PRINTER'S DEVIL can't get off the ground with the frantic Welcome to Kitty Hawk, directed by Kip Fagan and written by him and the cast. Using bits of choreography, a nonlinear approach, snatches of period writings, oddball blackout scenes, and measured, intentionally arch dialogue, Kitty Hawk attempts to sketch the strained, ambiguous love triangle between '50s artist Grace Hartigan (Heidi Schreck) and gay poets John Ashbery (Michael Chick) and Frank O'Hara (artistic director Stephen Hando) in Greenwich Village.
The idea of a sort of abstract expressionist version of N�Coward's Design for Living is a smart, grand notion, but the show plays out all its random effects by its first third. Some of the devices, fueled by Fagan's energy, do work: a dance to a Billie Holiday tune, each member of the trio caught up in a private melody that somehow bonds them; Hando hanging paintings while his recorded voice-over considers our reaction to the show we're watching. The production instructs us many times not to expect instant gratification, but rather a patchwork of postshow revelations "rising up without warning whenever you begin the simplest task." Speaking in happy unison after the bumpy beginning, the trio cautions, "From now on, it's going to get more difficult to follow—that's the way life is sometimes." It's also going to get more irritating—that's the way it is when a play keeps reminding you how unconventional it is.
The talented cast lunges at all this with an admirable fearlessness that grows less admirable when no one manages to hit anywhere even close to the intended mark. None of the production—the passionate language, the midcentury beatnik milieu, even Curtis Taylor's set—feels lived in. The kind of sophisticated yet bohemian urbanity that would make some of the material click eludes all three of the players. Hando overworks a grin as crooked as everyone's ersatz East Coast accent, and spends the 45-minute running time speaking out of the side of his mouth. Chick fails with the same rueful underplaying that worked so well for him a few weeks ago in Fagan's The Waverly Gallery at The Empty Space. Schreck is sunny but remains a complete mystery.
When it becomes obvious that you won't be hit with any revelations back home at your simple tasks, you realize that the ambitious production hasn't cared enough whether or not we recognize any of its characters. Why even bother telling us their names? "The only thing we know about each other," Grace fittingly tells her companions, "is that we happen to be in this room."