Sometimes people ask me for good theater suggestions: things to see, what’s particularly good, that kinda stuff. In general, I only have two answers when it comes to questions like this: 1) it’s honestly hard to find a truly unbearable piece of theater. And 2) if it has music, the story doesn’t necessarily need to make sense. I repeated the second rule to myself the opening night of Flight at the Minnesota Opera.
Flight is a pre-9/11 story that takes place in an airport. As the Controller (Katrina Galka) watches overhead, the Refugee (Cortez Mitchell) waits for his brother and looks for help in the busy terminal. Everywhere around him people come and go in the scurry of travel. After all flights have been canceled, the crew of strangers are forced to stay together and madness ensues before people inevitably depart on their flights.
Now my rule about music in theater certainly applies to the opera, as Flight has more than a few plot holes, but that doesn’t excuse problems in the story's adaptation. While the narrative moves from drama to humor pretty quickly, a few things are hard to ignore. For starters The Refugee (that’s actually his name in the program) is a young man of color. Obviously this isn’t a problem, but around the second act he starts giving the entire, predominantly white, cast magical stones to solve all of their problems. Which makes him a Magical Negro-- a painfully outdated writing trope.
I didn't have a problem with the out there sexual performance between the stewards in the first act or the fact that the fake terminal they invented shares the names of a notable news outlet in the Twin Cities, but the Magical Negro crossed a line. It feels weird that no one thought to approach director David Radames Toro about the issue. Especially since his director’s notes speak to the reason The Refugee isn’t given a name or homeland.
Outside of this very disappointing trope, Flight’s music soars with escalating magnitude. Geoffrey McDonald’s work grows with every act, surprising the audience with the hidden depth of this airport. Countertenor Cortez Mitchell shines, delights, bemuses, and so much more in this leading role. In his voice, we glean a painful naivety that forces the strangers grow to love and protect him. There’s also so much to be said of Katrina Galka. Her role is genuinely odd, as the Controller she is constantly watching over the cast in her tower. Interacting with no one she performs solo, switching back and forth from cynical disdain to comedic derision. As a soprano. she projects the sharpest feelings of admiration for planes and the coldest inclinations towards everyone else.
Besides the fantastic operatic ranges on display, Flight is a technical marvel in regards to it’s set. David Murakami, the Projections Designer, allows the stage to morph and change without ever moving a piece of furniture. We see planes take off, passengers fly away, raging rainstorms, and painful deaths projected on the background. The projections work in perfect harmony with the composition, and while they are fantastic to watch they are never distracting.
Flight provides drama and comedy in three magnificent acts. After all three, you’ll wonder about the strange, and possibly interesting, lives we all live right before any of us take a flight. Despite a disappointing writing flaw, the show’s story delights thanks to projection work that makes the airport terminal into a fascinating place. With great operatic ranges provided from the cast, you’ll be sure to love the English opera.