UP by Bridget Carpenter is a play that I would call engrossing. Based loosely on the true story of Larry Walters, who made his epic flight in a weather balloon-assisted lawn chair in 1982, the play examines the life and family of the fictional Walter Griffin. Walter is a man who, as the play says, has allowed a chair to define his life. UP is about love, money and the conflict between dreams and reality.
The playwright has said the play was inspired by the image of a man alone in a blue sky. The spirit of Philippe Petit, the French wire walker, observes as, sixteen years after his flight, Walter continues dreaming and inventing. Walter's wife Helen tries to understand, while his son Mikey, a high school sophomore, deals with teen-age angst. At school he meets the effervescent and pregnant Maria, whose Aunt Chris gives him a job that allows Mikey to develop hidden talents.
Michael V. Sims has created an ethereal set, consisting of blue translucent sliding panels painted with clouds. Upstage there is an elevated walkway used primarily by Philippe Petit. These plus the sky cyc provide an excellent canvas for Thomas C. Hase's excellent lighting that is especially effective in the fire scene.
Maggie Dick's costumes are also very good. I particularly liked the riotous colors of Maria's Act II outfit and the stagehands' coveralls and headsets, reminiscent of early Cirque du Soliel riggers. Kristina Scalone has done a nice job on M. Petit's wig.
Ryan Rumey's music and sound add to the production, as does the movement of Felix Ivanov. I couldn't find anyone credited for the programs, but as is usual at Syracuse Stage, they're both interesting and informative. They contain the story of the original flight as well as an interview with Philippe Petit.
This is a strong and balanced cast. Christopher Duval does a nice job in multiple roles, especially as M. Petit with his plate spinning and various crossovers. As Aunt Chris, Suzanna Hay is believable and a charming con artist. Mhari Sandoval is fine as Helen, Walter's wife, trying to balance her world of reality with Walter's dreams.
As Mikey, Graham Powell is very good. He's a wonderful mix of the characteristics of both his parents. As the pregnant Maria, Susannah Flood is terrific, and is especially affecting when telling the story of her pregnancy. It's obvious that she lives in the real world, while Mikey, a romantic, wants to know about how love feels.
Todd Jefferson Moore is simply splendid as Walter. He has an air of vulnerability and an almost childlike excitement about his inventions. His solution to the family's money problems clearly shows his inability to deal with reality. Mr. Moore's Walter is a three-dimensional portrait of a man I'd like to know - but not live with.
Director Penny Metropulos has directed and staged this imaginative play with a sure hand. To quote from her comments, "All dreams come at a cost. . . No matter how life pulls us down into reality, you have no choice what your dreams are. It will somehow kill you if you don't continue to pursue them."
This funny and touching play made me care about these characters and also examine my own dreams. In any case, I realized that at the final curtain I had a big smile on my face. What more can you ask?
On a scale of one to five, the Syracuse Stage production of UP gets four and three-fourths oranges. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.