“There you stood on the edge of your feather, expecting to fly. While I laughed, I wondered whether I could wave goodbye, knowin’ that you’d gone.”

The strains of Neil Young’s melancholy “Expecting To Fly” provide a musical prelude to Michael Hyman’s World Premiere drama of the same name, a play which despite considerable script shortcomings nonetheless provides a terrific acting showcase for its two stars, Justin Mortelliti and Casey Kringlen, who deliver riveting performances as lovers Jared and Sean under Kiff Scholl’s highly imaginative direction.

It’s hard even to being talking about Expecting To Fly without giving away its central premise, that Sean is dead, and that Jared now finds himself haunted by his memories of his lover (or perhaps indeed by his lover’s ghost), Hyman’s script giving few clues as to whether Sean’s visits are imagined or supernatural.

What is clear from the get-go is that Jared’s method of coping with Sean’s loss—seeking out an endless stream of hookups, never telling his tricks his real name, and no kissing allowed—isn’t filling the emptiness. Tonight, however, Jared’s pickup had the same “sparkling blue eyes” as his deceased lover, leading Sean to wonder whether perhaps this time might have been different, and if so, why Jared won’t finally open himself up to the possibility of loving anew.

Over the course of Expecting To Fly’s three nights (and eighty minutes), Sean reminds Jared of the “never-ending stories of us,” from their first meeting at a gay club-turned-funeral parlor, to a meet-cute that got serious right from the start, to their first Halloween together (dressed as matching gay Caspars), to their wedding atop the Chelsea Hotel, performed by a pseudo Zen master who lived in their building. Throughout, Jared is haunted by the knowledge that he never once told Sean “I love you.”

Since it’s obvious that there can be no happy ending for Jared and Sean, Expecting To Fly ends up a rather gloomy tale, far more a “grief story” than the “love story” director Scholl describes in his director’s notes.

Despite the added suspension of disbelief required by a play in which one of its two characters is either a ghost or a figment of the other’s imagination (would a neighbor peering in through the window see the objects Sean picks up as flying through the air à la Topper?), the intensity and believability of its two stars’ performances go a long way towards overcoming this—and other flaws in Hyman’s script, e.g. expressions like the oft-repeated “my sparkling blue eyes” or “Who will you love in your world of constant strangers?”, which come across awkward or stilted at best, or hearing Sean’s string of past-tense reminiscences rather than actually re-living these moments as they actually happened—a case where showing would work better than merely telling.  As for “that perfect kiss,” who on this earth (or in heaven for that matter) times a kiss down to the second, especially one that goes on for well over three minutes?

StageSceneLA readers already know Mortelliti from his Scenie-winning Outstanding Lead Actor turns in The Columbine Project and The Bedroom Window. Expecting To Fly allows the multitalented young performer to do his finest work yet, in a performance of sizzling intensity, depth, and physicality. Newcomer Kringlen matches Mortelliti in the play’s more colorful role, giving a dazzling display of total-body acting as Sean slinks and climbs and pounces about Jared’s junk-strewn apartment (and often atop Jared himself), uninhibited quicksilver work from an actor we’re sure to be hearing more of. Expecting To Fly’s two stars share terrific stage chemistry together, making Jared’s need to face a life without Sean all the more devastating.

Designwise, Expecting To Fly represents L.A. theater at its absolute finest, beginning with the dingy mess of an apartment that scenic designer Keith Mitchell has created for Jared and Sean to dance their emotional pas de deux in, every surface cluttered with old, torn gay magazines, discarded condom wrappers, empty takeout pizza boxes, etc. Matt Richter lights Mitchell’s set with imagination and punch, while Corwin Evans’ ingenious sound design surrounds Jared’s apartment with big city street noises and ups the dramatic ante on numerous occasions. Shannon Kennedy’s costumes are spot-on choices as well.

Behind the scenes at Expecting To Fly are producer Raquel Lehrman (Theatre Planners), associate producer Laura Manchester (Theatre Planners), and assistant set designer Miles Taber. Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA, with Peter Matyas, associate casting. Understudies Andrew Crabtree and Mason McCulley will perform the roles of Jared and Sean on February 17, 18, and 19. Victoria Watson is stage manager.

Outstanding performances, ingenious direction, and sensational design go a long way towards making Expecting To Fly work as well as it does. As Hyman’s play stands now, however, more work is needed to make it truly take flight.

Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
January 28, 2012
Photos: Mark Barnes

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