Presented by the Westmont College Theater Department. At Porter Theater, Fri., Oct. 22. Runs through October 30.
The Westmont Theater Department is back in business with a production of playwright Hannah Kenah’s Kitty Hawk or Kill Devil, a play that celebrates the firsts of flight, from the Wright brothers in the early 20th century to the Apollo 11 moon mission in 1969. These two tales are woven together with the saga of a modern family who harbors deep comic antipathy for the Wright brothers’ decision to take their flight trials to North Carolina instead of completing them in their great home state of Ohio.
Playwright and Westmont alum Diana Small directs a strong cast in this relatively fast-paced play, including a standout performance from Rachel Herriges, who plays Lucas, a young boy in modern-day Ohio. Herriges channels the spastic energy of a preteen boy and melds it with an innocence and wisdom that makes for a thought-provoking characterization. Another notable performance is given by Emiliana Brewer as Ruth Lyle, the fictional secretary to the Wright brothers, who offers a robust take on a role that is physical, funny, and poignant.
The Porter Theater is set efficiently with projection screens that transport the audience to the fields of Ohio and into orbit around the moon. Landon Moir plays astronaut Michael Collins while hanging from an onstage tower in a harness that creates the illusion he is floating in outer space. Various onstage levels offer ample locations for the three stories to take place both concurrently and in series, while still maintaining a sense of intimacy and connection between segments.
Themes explored include the cultural obsession with being in first place and the idea that there is only success or failure, no middle ground, giving lots of opportunity for bittersweet moments of simultaneous pride and disappointment. It’s a cleverly devised production that hits notes of hope, sacrifice, and the importance of being curious.