A single-engine Piper J-3 Cub airplane crashes in the New Hampshire woods, its two passengers soon arriving at the inexorable conclusion that neither is likely to survive the freezing winter night. Playwright-director Joshua Ravetch takes this incident and expands upon it in unexpected ways in One November Yankee, now getting its World Premiere production at North Hollywood’s NoHo Arts Center.

ONE-NOVEMBER-YANKEE-2 The passengers aboard the Piper are brother and sister Margo and Harry, performed by ‘70s/‘80s television icons Loretta Swit and Harry Hamlin, whose TV fame and mostly fine work here give One November Yankee the kind of marquee power sure to attract older theatergoing audiences.

Margo and Harry are not the only siblings brought to life by Swit and Hamlin. First up are art gallery bigwig Maggie and her artist brother Ralph, whose latest installation (about to be debuted tonight) happens to be a nose-down, life-size replica of the crashed Piper, one which Maggie is now beginning to wish she had never recommended to the gallery board despite Harry’s insistence that “Crumpled Plane” is a metaphor for a contemporary society in ruins.

Playwright Ravetch then flashes us five years back to those wintry New Hampshire woods and the crash’s almost certainly doomed survivors Margo and Harry, their relationship every bit as prickly as Margo and Harry’s, albeit with considerably higher stakes as the duo exchange accusations of blame even as the realization that this may well be their last night on earth begins slowly to sink in.

Act Two opens just two days before One November Yankee’s first scene as siblings Mia and Ronnie discover not only the wrecked Piper but pieces of evidence to explain how it crashed and what may have happened to its two passengers.

We then return to the present time, no longer able to see Maggie and Ralph’s pre-opening spat with the same eyes as before.

One November Yankee (the play’s title is taken from the plane’s call letters 1NY) is at its most compelling in its second and third scenes, where the ante is considerably higher than whether Ralph’s installation is art or pretentiousness or simply a waste of gallery space. Watching Margo and Harry squabble as freezing night begins to fall exerts the morbid fascination of the Titanic’s final hour, while witnessing Mia and Ronnie’s discovery has its own CSI allure.

Though this reviewer was left wondering what point or points Ravetch was attempting to make in writing One November Yankee, there is nevertheless much to recommend in it, if only for the playwright’s look at three rarely explored adult brother-and-sister relationships and for a chance to see its two stars up-close-and-personal, though in the case of one of them it may be a bit too close for comfort.

ONE_NOVEMBER_YANKEE_-_1.tiff.300x308_q100 Swit and Hamlin do impressive work at creating three different sets of siblings, and it’s a real pleasure seeing two actors best known for their short-take TV work take on the challenge of doing four very long, uninterrupted takes and proving themselves as adept on the legitimate stage as they have been on the small screen.

Still, I couldn’t help wishing that a more age-appropriate actress were playing 50ish Maggie, Margo, and Mia. Though Swit certainly doesn’t look her age, work she may have had done has robbed her of one of an actor’s greatest tools, a face able to express a full gamut of emotions.

There can be absolutely no quibbles about One November Yankee’s looks, beginning with Dana Moran Williams’ impressive set design, dominated by the authentic looking crashed Piper smack dab center stage. White floor-to-ceiling panels provide just the right backdrop for a big city art gallery, then get transformed by the magic of projections into a woodsy terrain. Luke Moyer’s exquisite lighting is equally magical, with Jeff Gardner’s sound design an ingenious one and Kate Bergh’s costumes fitting each of the play’s six characters to a T. A pair of fascinating aviation-related videos play during each act’s extended blackout, allowing actors to change costumes and (in Swit’s case) wigs.

One November Yankee is produced by Jay Willick for NoHo ACE and Kevin Baliey. Diana Copeland is production stage manager.

Though not as completely satisfying as one might have wished, One November Yankee makes for an evening of theater you’re likely to be talking quite a bit about once the lights have gone down on its startling, deliberately ambiguous final tableau.

Note: Understudies Karesa McElheny and Scott Kradolfer will be stepping in for Swit and Hamlin Thursday through Sunday December 27-30.

NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
December 22, 2012

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