“Flight of the Lawnchair Man” at Timber Lake.
By Sue Langenberg
Second show at Timber Lake Playhouse of Mt. Carroll is here already after a stunning opening of “Sunset Boulevard.” “Flight of the Lawnchair Man” openened last night and promises even more laughs and more music to soothe the soul.
Staged by guest director Chuck Smith, the show is a guaranteed experience of laughter and lively music. As resident director of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, Smith is enjoying his 10th year and 10th show at TLP. Smith exhibits extraordinary ability to glean the best possible work out of actors before him, and thus contributes much to the TLP seasons.
About this story, there really was a lawn chair man, or “lawn chair Larry,” as he was called from whom the inspiration of this musical was created. In 1982, truck driver Larry Walters fashioned an ordinary patio chair with 45 helium-filled balloons and rose to some 15,000 feet. He was a dreamer in the clouds, but also found himself in a controlled airspace at Los Angeles International Airport. Naturally, there was much ado about his flying antic including an area of power failure when his flying contraption entangled itself in some wires on the way down. Upon his arrest, a reporter asked him, “Why?” His answer was, “a man can’t just sit around.”
The real life lawn chair man took a darker turn by taking his own life in 1993 at aged 44, perhaps because of restless dreams that couldn’t settle a soul that preferred being in the clouds, rather than earthly existence.
This more upbeat satire took up on the idea of the conflict between daily life in its humdrum existence and dreaming beyond. The fictional lawn chair creation was presented in several New York venues under several titles before the more recent musical production. It is thus most timely and a special treat for patrons of TLP to enjoy such a wonderful piece.
If the musical could be described in one word, it would be “clever.” Clever everything. Clever costumes (Tate Ellis and Katy Freeman), clever minimalist set design (Nathan Dahlkemper), clever satire, clever songs (music conductor Travis Horton). It is living proof that a simple idea presented in a simple manner can garner endless analysis and exploration of motive and message.
But one word would take away from the all the fun. Dreaming in the clouds was contrasted with ghastly earth-keeping, the likes of a career at Wal-Mart, tollbooth action and all other venues that could be presented in hysterical campiness. At the center of it all is main character Jerry Gorman played by well-cast Grant Drager. As a nerdy loser in life, he knows that ordinary jobs will not satisfy his life-long desire to fly, expressed in song, “I Want to Fly.” But, oops, he happens to have no abilities and flunks ordinary flying lessons as so comically portrayed in “Left” with flyer Big Jack Preston (Brandon Ford) and Blaire (Erica Vlahinos) and a sniping chorus nearby.
Meanwhile, Jerry’s classless Mother Gorman, by Julia Mitchell, prattles around him with her great ambitions about his career as an Avon Lady. She comes and goes with her own brand of hysteria donning sparkles and a hilarious misshapen red wig.
Girlfriend Gracie (Sophia Brown) comes upon the story with her genuine wish that Jerry finds his way into the clouds. As she cheers from below she sings her way through conflicts with other characters and presents the most memorable song, “The Air is Free.”
Hysteria element at every entrance and exit are when characters Big Jack Preston and tipsy-toeing, empty-headed Blair as they represent the flying norm in the clouds with, “What is That?” (A lawn chair).
Other cast members keep the satire hysterical with Dryden Meints, Kelsey Andres, Patrick Connaghan, Aaron Conklin, Henry McGinniss and a most notable Katie Wesler as Amelia Earhart.
A must-laugh-at “Flight of the Lawnchair Man” continues tonight and runs through Saturday June 25 at Timber Lake Playhouse. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday shows at 7:30 p.m. Sunday show at 6:30 p.m., matinees on Wednesday and Sunday at 2 p.m. The Mt. Carroll boonies are a hop, skip and a jump to 8215 Black Oak Road. Call the box office at (815) 244-2035 or email@example.com for tickets, group rates and more information.