The American Pilot

Playwright: David Greig
Director: Scot Whitney
Producer: Harlequin Productions
Dates: April 30 – May 23, 2009

Interview – Everyday Olympian
April 24, 2009

Nate Kirkwood as the Pilot

Nate Kirkwood as the Pilot

“The American pilot was the most beautiful human being I had ever seen. His skin was the color of sand flecked through with gold. He was tall and he was strong and his eyes were as blue as the sky he fell from.”

An interview by Dan Weiss with Scot Whitney, artistic director of the upcoming Harlequin Productions staging of The American Pilot by David Greig

The American Pilot initially conjured up for me those stereotypical prisoner of war movies. I wanted to know more about this play and why it is important. My interview with Scot begins with:

So what attracted you to this play?

I happened to read about the premiere of The American Pilot while visiting the Royal Shakespeare Company website in 2005. I was able to get the script through a friend who was living there and fell in love with the story. It took a while to get the rights to produce the show, but now we’ve got them and we’re excited about presenting it to our audience.

And the plot line is?

An American military pilot crashes into a mountain while flying over a third world country torn by civil war. He’s badly injured, but a farmer finds and helps him. Pretty soon everybody knows he’s there, and the village has to figure out what to do with him.

So what were your expectations about the play?

When I read about it, I assumed it would be an aggressive political play about how the third world views the U.S. and its foreign policy, especially its use of the military.

Elliot Weiner as the Trader

Elliot Weiner as the Trader

And the play is different?

Well, that aspect is certainly present, but the play is not a rabid rant against the U.S. In fact, everyone involved is in awe of the pilot. They love him, pity him, fear him, envy him… their feelings for him are very complex, and each character finds something different in him. This tension produces moments of great tenderness and humor along with the turmoil, frustration and… everything else!

So we watch the characters trying to determine if this American pilot is a threat or an opportunity?

Exactly. The villagers know the American military will be looking for their lost pilot. Should they hold him for ransom? Should they give him back as a gesture of goodwill, or in hopes of receiving some kind of reward? Is he more valuable to them dead or alive? They find lots of options, but no clear answers. Everyone keeps talking about “doing the right thing,” but nobody can agree on what that is.

The playwright, David Greig, is interested in far more than the political negotiations, however. He also raises some fascinating questions about ethics in a modern world, how money is perceived differently by “non-capitalists,” and the bizarre ways that western culture has already affected even the farthest corners of the earth.

Ann Flannigan as Sarah and Scott C. Brown as the Farmer

Ann Flannigan as Sarah and Scott C. Brown as the Farmer

Is the location in a specific country?

The location is in an unnamed mountainous region that could be Pakistan, the Balkans or you decide where it is. An important aspect of the play is that everyone speaks perfect English but the villagers don’t understand the pilot and vice versa. A lot of effort is spent on communications, and it gets pretty amusing.

Any last words?

This is a gorgeous and stimulating play. It plays like a realistic drama, but offers a sense of poetic allegory at the same time. The language, imagery and ideas are thrilling and surprising, and it feels a little like a modern fairy tale.

Harlequin’s production of The American Pilot opens on April 30 and runs through May 23 at the State Theatre in downtown Olympia.

Crash – American Pilot Lands with a Thud
May 07, 2009

If I followed my mother’s adage of not saying anything if I can’t say something nice, this would be a short column. Well actually, there were some high points in Harlequin Productions’ The American Pilot. But not many.

Scott C. Brown, Elliot Weiner and Amy Hill delivered solid performances. No surprise there. Solid actors land solid performances no matter how much the script fails. And they are solid actors.

There, something nice.

The root of my frustration with this show is that it truly seems as if the playwright didn’t have any concept of either war, the global extent of the American culture and military operational procedures or codes of conduct. He must have thought that Hogan’s Heroes was a documentary. There were just too many things wrong with the story’s premise that could have been easily solved with a Google search.

Scotsman David Greig wrote the work as a way to examine the human condition during times of stress and the complexities about how the rest of the world views America both as a land of abundance and opportunity and as the great devil of the modern world.

The story follows the happenings in an unnamed village in a land ripped by more than 20 years of civil war. The set and costumes suggest it was one of the “stans” following the breakup of the Soviet Union. An American Air Force pilot crashes and finds himself in the care of local militia leaders who battle over what to do with him.

The story seems compelling enough, but it quickly falls apart since it takes place in modern times yet the villagers know nothing about an iPod or modern music. They have access to the Internet but believe American forces don’t know one of their pilots has been captured. FACT: rescue teams are often scrambling to a crash scene before a pilot’s parachute hits the ground. Helicopters would be swarming the skies like mosquitoes on a hot summer day in Mississippi. That pilot would not have to wonder if his forces were looking for him several days after his crash, as the play stated. Or that the villagers would not know what to do with a downed pilot, or for that matter, that the pilot would not know what to do. Both were caverns in logic that were difficult to overcome.

And don’t get me started on the language barrier bit or that Nate Kirkwood was absolutely and completely unconvincing as an Air Force officer, let alone a pilot. His temper, arrogance and demeanor were not consistent with what his training would be for such matters.

Published on January 2, 2010 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

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