Before the house opens, we hear the announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, boarding will begin momentarily.” The audience is eventually seated by zones, just as though for a flight. Inside the theater space, the clever set design by Meredith Ries arranges the cast and audience on a plane in first class, “Comfort Plus” or coach. First class passengers are given extra treats and wine when the snack and beverage service is provided periodically throughout the play. The air travel experience is further enhanced by prop master Rhys Roffey, lighting designer Oona Curley and costume designer Heather McDevitt Barton, all contributing important touches to the setting.
Retiring after decades of flying to pursue a lifelong dream of writing, Jan (Tony nominee Barbara Walsh) is taking her last flight as an employee in order to join a prestigious writing workshop. She is traveling with her dog Bonnie, who has been diagnosed with cancer. During this trip, where Jan comes to terms with endings and new beginnings, she must deal with her best friend and fellow flight attendant Greig (Greig Sargeant) who is hurt that she didn’t tell him she was retiring. Jan and Greig are also dealing with green flight attendant LeeAnne (Ceci Fernandez) as she dodges the advances of her ex-boyfriend, Co-Pilot (Federico Rodriguez, aka “Jesus,” short for “Jesus is my co-pilot”). Pilot (Sam Breslin Wright) helms the “wheel” of this turbulent, quirky trip. Playwright Bent herself weaves in and out of the story as Jan’s writing muse Mark Twain, dropping thought-provoking quips and quotes on the characters and audience members alike.
During the play, the characters step in and out of private moments, reflecting on their lives, past and present. As one exceptionally bumpy moment in the air occurs, all consider what could be their last moments of life.
In a rare moment of privacy that follows, Jan checks her emails once internet service is restored. She receives life-changing messages which bring about more turbulence, but this time of a personal nature. Ultimately, she embraces her life choices and looks brightly towards her future.
The role of Jan is the most developed of the characters, and Walsh plays her sincerely and effectively. The rest of the actors flank her as best they can in their shallower roles, having fun in the process under the broad direction of Annie Tippe.
Bonnie’s Last Flight peppers its character moments with humorous sketches and air travel anecdotes. Some don’t hit their mark, but most do. There’s an especially amusing and thoughtful moment where the audience is handed landing cards on which they’re invited to “lighten their emotional luggage upon arrival.” All “passengers” are asked to “write down whatever’s been weighing you down: a fear, a hurt, a grudge, anything you’re ready to let go of—anything to lessen the emotional kilos you carry around. When we do our trash collection shortly we will also take the emotional waste you wish to dispose of. Namaste.” I’m quite certain every person in the audience felt better after their card was taken out with the trash, present company included.
Bonnie’s Last Flight (through March 2, 2019)
Next Door at NYTW
Fourth Street Theatre, 83 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets call 212-460-5475 or visit nytw.org
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission